A mother and her two children look at the diagrams inside the ReSource Center’s Education Center that explain the process recyclables go through at the Materials Recovery Facility.
A mother and her two children look at the diagrams inside the ReSource Center’s Education Center that explain the process that recyclables go through at the Materials Recovery Facility. Large, stacked bails of recyclables can be seen through the window. (Serena Guentz / Noozhawk photo)

As part of Santa Barbara’s Creek Week, the Tajiguas Landfill offered a guided tour of its new ReSource Center on Wednesday morning, allowing community members to actually see what happens with their trash after it’s thrown away.

The ReSource Center, which includes the Materials Recovery Facility, an Anaerobic Digestor Facility, and an Education Center on the second floor of the Materials Recovery Facility, opened and began processing recyclables and organics out of trash on July 16.

While the landfill has been operating at its location since 1967, planning for the ReSource Center began in 2007, and construction for the facility took about two years, costing about $150 million.

“It used to be that whatever you threw in the trash was thrown away forever, buried in a landfill. Your hand was the last hand to ever touch what you threw away,” said Sam Dickinson, program specialist at the ReSource Center. “Fortunately, that’s not the case anymore, but we still have to care what we’re doing.”

The Education Center explains the process that trash goes through when it arrives at the landfill, along with emphasizing the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling.

Because of the Education Center’s location above the Materials Recovery Facility, dozens of bails of recyclables that were pulled from the trash during processing can be seen through large windows.

“The waste reduction piece, I think, is really, really important, despite the fact that we’re sorting through all this material and diverting it,” Dickinson said. “We still want people to learn the right thing to do.”

According to a diagram in the Education Center, each person generates a little more than five pounds of waste every day.

Dickinson said his goal is to develop a program that brings in all fourth-graders to tour the facility, which would include schools in Goleta, Summerland, Montecito, Solvang, Buellton and other nearby unincorporated areas.

“I want everyone to come up here and see it,” he said. “Everyone needs to see where their trash is going.”

When trash arrives at the landfill, it is first processed in the Materials Recovery Facility, where recyclables and organic materials — or “the good stuff,” as Dickinson called it — is sorted and pulled out from the trash. With the new facility, 65% of additional waste is diverted from the landfill, bringing the region’s diversion rate up to 85%.

The recyclables are put into bails and stacked, ready to be sold and recycled into new products. Organic material is sent to the Anaerobic Digestor Facility, and whatever is left over is called residual waste, which is buried in the landfill.

Burying organic material is what causes landfills to generate greenhouse gas.

Carlyle Johnston, a project leader at the ReSource Center, said that landfill gas collection captures only about 75% of methane generated, with the remaining 25% equivalent to 22,000 vehicles on the road per year. The Anaerobic Digestor Facility captures much more, if not all, of the methane.

“Instead of capturing 75%, we end up capturing almost 100%, 99.9% of the methane,” Johnston said. “We’re diverting the equivalent of 117,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year.”

At the Anaerobic Digestor Facility, organic material is combined with green waste and put into a large, airtight bunker, where it remains for two 28-day cycles. Inside the bunker, moisture with bacteria in it circulates to generate methane gas and to break the organics down into digestate. All of that gas is collected and sent to a power plant to generate electricity.

There are 16 large, airtight bunkers inside the Anaerobic Digestor Facility and the landfill’s Resource Center. Each bunker can hold 600 to 700 tons.

There are 16 large, airtight bunkers inside the Anaerobic Digestor Facility and the landfill’s Resource Center. Each bunker can hold 600 to 700 tons. (Serena Guentz / Noozhawk photo)

Other sources of green energy at the landfill include solar panels and other collected landfill gas.

“[The landfill’s green energy] is enough to completely power this facility, plus has surplus electricity that powers around 3,000 homes in the South Coast,” said Lael Wageneck, public information officer for the Public Works Department. “This project is the largest reducer of greenhouse gasses in the county.”

Meanwhile, the resulting digestate is laid out in rows to dry. Once dry, any plastic or glass is filtered out and the organic material is now compost, which can be used in local orchards, parks, golf courses and many other places to enrich soil.

The entire process takes three to four months to complete.

The ReSource Center’s Anaerobic Digestor Facility has 16 bunkers, and the whole facility can hold nearly 75,000 tons, Wageneck said.

“[The recycling and anaerobic digestor] is truly making waste management a cycle instead of this linear process where you use something, it goes into a landfill and stays there forever,” Wageneck said.

Currently, tours of the ReSource Center and the rest of the Tajiguas Landfill are available to Santa Barbara County residents, who can sign up online. More information on the center and tours can be found on the ReSource Center’s website by clicking here.

Noozhawk staff writer Serena Guentz can be reached at sguentz@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.