San Francisco Makes Composting Mandatory

  • San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom signs mandatory composting into law (Photo courtesy of the Press Office of Mayor Newsom)

San Francisco already leads the
nation in recycling. Now, that
city has the first mandatory
composting law in the country.
Emily Wilson reports that’s got
some people worried about “garbage
cops”:

Transcript

San Francisco already leads the
nation in recycling. Now, that
city has the first mandatory
composting law in the country.
Emily Wilson reports that’s got
some people worried about “garbage
cops”:

Putting recyclables into the blue bin is second nature for people in San Francisco.

But this new law now means also putting coffee grounds and eggshells into a green bin.

There are some people who are concerned about Big Brother looking through their garbage. And then there’s the $100 fine.

Mark Westlund at the Department of the Environment says ‘no worries.’ Not much is going to change.

“Well, we get a lot of calls from people who are worried about garbage cops and that frankly is not going to happen. For years now we’ve been looking in peoples recycling to make sure they’re doing it correctly and if not, they get a tag and if they continue misusing it, they get a letter and a follow up call and then a visit.”

So there are warnings before the fine.

Cities across the country will be watching San Francisco’s mandatory composting law to see how it goes.

For The Environment Report, I’m Emily Wilson.

Related Links

City Turns Mucky Grease Into Fuel

  • San Francisco expects to process 10,000 gallons of the grease every day (Photo by Rainer Zenz, source: Wikimedia Commons)

One city’s new program is taking the mucky sink-clogging grease from restaurants and converting it into fuel for its fleet of vehicles. As David Gorn reports, it’s the first effort of its kind in the nation:

Transcript

One city’s new program is taking the mucky sink-clogging grease from restaurants and converting it into fuel for its fleet of vehicles. As David Gorn reports, it’s the first effort of its kind in the nation:

It’s 6 in the morning, and a San Francisco sewage treatment plant is already in full gear.

(sound of a truck motor)

Workers are unloading a tankful of used cooking oil from local restaurants.

(sound of a man shouting)

But soon they’ll also be picking up something a little nastier from restaurants.

“Brown grease is culled out, pumped out by grease haulers and taken out of the city, often to landfills.”

That’s Karri Ving, biofuels coordinator for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. She says, instead of carting that grease off to a garbage dump, it will now be converted into biofuel.

“That material, that food material, is what we’re going to condense into a putty that gets converted into road-worthy biodiesel.”

Ving says San Francisco expects to process about 10,000 gallons of the
stuff every day.

For The Environment Report, I’m David Gorn.

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Fish Stocking Taxing

  • As fewer Brown Trout from a state stocking program survive in the waters of Thunder Bay in Lake Huron, the fish takes on the allure of a trophy fish, especially since those that do survive can grow very large. Last year, a 28 pound Brown Trout won the tournament. It may be the biggest Brown ever to be caught in the state of Michigan. (Photo by Linda Stephan)

Most cities have their symbols. Imagine San Francisco without
the Golden Gate, New York without the Statue of Liberty, or
Miami without dolphins. Linda Stephan has the story of a
community that has linked itself with a fish that is not native to
its waters. And stocking that fish is costing taxpayers a lot:

Transcript

Most cities have their symbols. Imagine San Francisco without
the Golden Gate, New York without the Statue of Liberty, or
Miami without dolphins. Linda Stephan has the story of a
community that has linked itself with a fish that is not native to
its waters. And stocking that fish is costing taxpayers a lot:


The brown trout arrived in Lake Huron’s Thunder Bay by a
fluke. Back in the 1970s, about a thousand fish – surplus stocks
from inland waters – were simply tossed out into the bay by
biologists, as if the bay were a trash bin.


No one expected them to survive. They thought they’d just be
food for other fish. But the brown trout did survive. They
quickly grew large and feisty. The state started to stock these
waters with young brown trout every year because anglers
liked catching them.


In fact, it was so popular, they named a fishing tournament after
it: the brown trout Festival in Alpena, Michigan. This year, a
crowd of hundreds gathered, despite periodic rain showers, as
festival o-“FISH”-als weighed in a day’s catch… lake trout, walleye:


(Sound of announcer at tournament)


You don’t need a brown trout to win at the brown trout
Festival. And it’s a good thing because these days, most boats
don’t catch even one. That’s because things have changed.


The ecosystems of Lake Huron and the other Great Lakes are
changing rapidly, as foreign invasive species, such as the zebra and
quagga mussels, steal away food at the bottom of the lake’s
food web.


Plus, a migratory bird that’s been showing up in this bay in huge
numbers, cormorants, have been eating the small browns
stocked by state fish nurseries before the fish ever make it into
open waters.


For the past decade, the Brown hasn’t survived all that well in
Lake Huron. So today biologists estimate that, taking into
account all those fish that don’t survive, every time an angler
catches a big Brownie, it now costs taxpayers close to
three hundred dollars.


In other words, each brown trout caught represents about
three hundred dollars spent by the state stocking program.
Even though the brown trout is not native, people here say the
fish belongs in these waters.


Hobbyist Dick Cadarette at the brown trout Festival says the Brown has a special allure for
the angler:


“Well, because they’re the best eating and they’re the hardest to
catch. That’s why we call it the brown trout because anybody
can catch a steelhead – I mean a lake trout – but they can’t
everybody catch a Brown.”


As the large fish becomes more and more elusive, it takes on
the allure of a trophy fish.


Fisheries Biologist Dave Fielder says because of the cost – for
years now – the state has had good reason to quit stocking these
waters with brown trout, but they still haven’t. No one’s
willing to see the namesake of the brown trout Festival
disappear:


“What’s always amazed me is how the natural resources in
Michigan, including the fisheries that we enjoy in the Great
Lakes, is really a part of that local heritage and quality of
life for these local communities and becomes an important part of the local existance and indentity it’s important that we
as scientists don’t lose sight of that.”


But some say the fact that the local community has gotten used
to seeing the brown trout does not mean it belongs in the lake.
Mark Ebener is a Fisheries Biologist for the Chippewa-Ottawa
Resource Authority. It regulates fishing for five Native
American tribes:


“You tell a lie long enough and sooner or later people
believe it and accept it as the truth. You know it’s not that
brown trout belong here. brown trout were introduced
and they continue to be defined as an introduced species
into North America.”


Ebener says since the brown trout does no harm to native fish,
such as the lake trout, his organization doesn’t oppose the
stocking program. But he also says at the current cost, the
brown trout is a clear waste of taxpayer money.


Back in Alpena, Biologist Dave Fielder agrees the state can’t
keep stocking the lake with browns if so few continue to
survive. But, an angler himself, he looks with envy on a
mounted brown that took last year’s top prize in the tournament,
an unbelievable 28.2 pounds:


“Can you imagine landin’ that fish? That must have been
somethin’. Anybody’s who’s caught fish can look at that and imagine the battle they must’ve went through and the excitement they must’ve felt. And those are real feelings and that’s not to be
trivialized.”


That’s evidence to Fielder, and others who fish these waters,
that at least some brown trout have what it takes to complete
for food in the changing ecosystems of Lake Huron.


For the Environment Report, I’m Linda Stephan.

Related Links

Cashing in on Restaurant Food Scraps

  • These loafs of bread were left in a park for wildlife to eat (not recommended by biologists). Most table scraps end up in a landfill. But a program in some cities is using table scraps from restaurants to make rich compost. = -2>(Photo by Lester Graham)

As you sit down to a holiday dinner this season…
here’s something wild to think about…some of the produce on
your plate, or even the wine in your glass may have been
produced using food scraps from restaurants. How? The
leftovers are collected and turned into compost, a natural
fertilizer that’s increasingly popular among wine grape
growers and organic farmers. Tamara Keith
reports:

Transcript

As you sit down to a holiday dinner this season… here’s something wild to think about:
some of the produce on your plate, or even the wine in your glass may have been
produced using food scraps from restaurants. How? The leftovers are collected and
turned into compost, a natural fertilizer that’s increasingly popular among wine grape
growers and organic farmers. Tamara Keith reports:


The food goes from plates in upscale restaurants, to green waste bins picked up by a
recycling company. The leftovers are then trucked out a compost facility.


(sound of the big machines)


Here, at Jepson Prairie Organics, the waste is transformed from discernable food
items,
to dark lush humus. Greg Pryor is general manager of the facility in Northern
California.


“If you look closer it’s you’ll find fish, shellfish, there’s a leek right there,
and onion.”


Yard clippings and a little cardboard are mixed in for balance. It’s all ground up,
and
stuffed in large black bags, 200 feet long and 10 feet wide.


“Really about a week into the bag it starts to break down and it really loses its
identity.”


After 30 days, the compost is removed from the bags, and continues to break down for
another month or so. As bacteria go to work on the food scraps and clippings, they
generate heat, so even on a hot day steam rises up from the rows of compost. Pryor
started in the trash business almost 15 years ago and he says it has come a long way.


“All of this used to go into a landfill and it just wasn’t right. And to me
personally that’s
the biggest benefit is that it’s putting materials back to a beneficial re-use,
there’s just
nothing better.”


The end product is marketed as “four course compost” to vineyards and organic
vegetable farms.


(Mexican music coming from a truck)


Just a few miles away at Eatwell Farm, workers are snipping and tying off bunches of
organic arugula. That peppery green was grown in soil bolstered by four-course
compost. Farmer Nigel Walker says he applies a heavy coat of compost after every
harvest, sometimes as much as three times a year.


“And we just always do that. I don’t even have to. Roberto’s our tractor driver.
I don’t
even say ‘put compost on, Roberto.’ He just knows. We put compost on and then we
cultivate it in.”


In the past, Walker has used compost made from animal manure. It works fine, he says,
but he likes the idea this fertilizer comes from restaurants.


“It’s a great compost, we need a compost and we likes where it comes from, it’s pretty
simple.”


This time of year, the makers of four-course compost make a lot of deliveries to
California wine country, home to some of the nation’s premier wines. Linda Hale is
the
field supervisor for Madrone Vineyard Management in Sonoma County. She and her
employees look after 400 acres of wine grapes for wineries like Ravenswood, Sabastiani
and BR Cohn.


Hale says they use compost between the rows, to prepare the land for winter.


“Right after you harvest, you come in, you prep the ground, you put your compost in,
seed it and let the vines go to sleep for the winter. And that’s just your good night
medicine.”


Hale says the compost improves the vigor of the vines. Healthy soil, makes for
healthy
plants, and healthy plants she says are better able to fend off pests and disease.
And
Hale says, it prices out the same as synthetic liquid fertilizers – the current
industry
standard.


Plus, winemaker Tom Montgomery at the BR Cohn Winery says it’s kind of fun to think
about what might have gone into the compost.


“There’s probably a little filet in there, some veggie dishes, aso bucco…” (laughs)


Montgomery calls it fertilizer with pizzazz.


“I think it makes a difference to us. I’m not so sure that it makes a difference to
the
wine.”


Other cities, even other countries are starting to pick up on the food-to-field
idea. Soon a
group from Toronto will be touring the compost facilities to see if they can
replicate the
program in their city.


For the Environment Report, I’m Tamara Keith.

Related Links

New Power Plant Makes Light Out of Leftovers

With ongoing concerns about over-reliance on fossil fuels, researchers and entrepreneurs are looking for alternate ways to generate energy. One university scientist has created a power plant fueled by organic waste, including table scraps from restaurants. Tamara Keith reports:

Transcript

With ongoing concerns about over-reliance on fossil fuels, researchers and entrepreneurs are looking for alternate ways to generate energy. One university scientist has created a power plant fueled by organic waste, including table scraps from restaurants. Tamara Keith reports:


At Boulevard, an upscale restaurant, diners lunch on seared sea scallops, paella and grilled escolar among other options.


Back in the kitchen cooks are careful to keep all food scraps out of the trash.


(Kitchen sounds, scraping sounds)


The food scraps from this restaurant and 2,000 others in the San Francisco Bay Area are already being collected to turn into compost.


But now some of that food, about 8 tons a week, is going to a new biogas power plant at the University of California Davis. Tim Quaintance is a chef at Boulevard. He says he’s pleased that his leftovers aren’t just going to a landfill.


“It’s nice that in the past things that have basically been thrown away are now actually being used, and with this technology really contributing to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.”


(Generator runs in background)


In Davis, the table scraps are being converted into fuel at an experimental power plant known as the Biogas Energy Project. With its four large steel tanks and 22 kilowatt generator, this plant is the first real-world demonstration of a technique called anaerobic phased solids digestion.


Rayhong Jha is a professor of biological and agricultural engineering at the University of California Davis. She first developed this technology on a smaller scale in her lab.


“What you see here is 20,000 times larger than the reactor system I use for laboratory testing.”


It may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, leftovers into power, but Dave Konwinski says it’s real. He’s CEO of Onsite Power Systems Incorporated which licensed the technology and operates the plant.


“Every ton of collected food waste will provide enough either electrical or thermal energy to run an average of 10 California homes.”


Konwinski sees this test plant as the first step to commercializing biogas power plants. Here’s how it works: the food waste as well as grass clippings and other would-be-trash go into a sealed tank where bacteria break the mush down into water and organic acids… kind of like what happens if you leave lettuce in the fridge too long. When that’s done, the organic acids are pumped into another tank where different bacteria convert the soup into methane gas.


“Biogas can be used to run a generator, we have a generator we’ll be running here, or we can use it in the boiler to offset natural gas heat, and we’re looking at taking the gas and converting it into vehicle fuels.”


The trash and recycling company that serves San Francisco, NorCal Waste Systems, is providing the raw materials. Robert Reed is company’s director of corporate communications.


“This research and other research like this is very important because it could be a double or a triple. What I mean by that is it could produce new energy. It could reduce the amount of material going to landfills. And it could help reduce the creation of greenhouse gasses.”


And Reed says if this technology proves to be commercially viable, the results could be huge. In just California alone, 38 million tons of garbage is sent to landfills each year. He says half of that could be converted to power, and that’s enough energy to continuously power the entire city of San Francisco.


Suddenly leaving a little broccoli on your plate doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.


For the Environment Report, I’m Tamara Keith.

Related Links

Utilities Use Fish to Test Water

Some major U.S. cities are adding a new type of watchdog to
their drinking water systems. Rebecca Williams reports that watchdog
is a fish:

Transcript

Some major U.S. cities are adding a new type of watchdog to their drinking
water systems. Rebecca Williams reports that watchdog is a fish:


New York City and San Francisco are two of the cities making room for fish
tanks in their water treatment plants. They’re using a common fish called
bluegill to test for toxins in the water supply.


Tony Winnicker is with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. He
says the system sends pre-treated water through the tank where the bluegill are swimming
around.


“If something unusual enters their gill system, particularly bluegill, which
are highly sensitive, they cough, their body reacts to it and the sensors
pick that up.”


The sensors hooked up to the tank trigger emails to water plant workers to
let them know the fish are acting funny. The system also automatically takes water
samples at the moment the fish react.


Winnicker says the system detects anything from a change in clarity to
toxins that could be very harmful to people.


For the Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

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Generating Energy From Dog Poop

A major city is about to become the first in the nation to generate energy from dog poop. Yes, you heard that right… dog poop. The GLRC’s Tamara Keith reports:

Transcript

A major city is about to become the first in the nation to generate energy
from dog poop. Yes, you heard that right…dog poop. The GLRC’s
Tamara Keith reports:


A recent study by the city of San Francisco found that nearly 4-percent
of all the trash picked up from people’s homes is animal waste. Yuck.
And while most, would gladly leave that stinky issue alone… San
Francisco officials see it as an opportunity.


The city’s garbage company is launching a pilot project. They’re
planning to collect the waste and then put it in a methane digester. As
the waste breaks down, it will produce gas that can be burned to power
an electricity generating turbine.


Robert Reed is a spokesman for Norcal Waste, the trash company.


“There’s literally 10 million tons of pet waste created annually in the
US, and it’s an edgy area of recycling. No one is doing anything about
it.”


Reed says he hopes San Francisco’s poop power program will be a
trendsetter.


For the GLRC, I’m Tamara Keith.

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