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waste not, want not….

December 30th, 2003 · 2 Comments

In yesterday’s Seattle Times I read two articles on recycling: First Food-waste composting: recycling’s next frontier
Food scraped off your plate at Seattle restaurants next year could go into recycling bins — and later come back to your table, in a roundabout way, in a bottle of wine.

Seattle needs to move to this new frontier to achieve its recycling goals, says Mayor Greg Nickels, who has proposed that the city launch a food-waste-recycling program by 2005….

Such a program could allow Seattleites, in a way, to consume the same carrot or salmon twice. That’s what happens in San Francisco, where food waste travels a 150-mile loop from restaurant to composting facility to vineyard and back. ..
Food waste accounts for roughly one-third of Seattle’s garbage. It’s the one major recyclable material Seattle isn’t reusing to boost its recycling rate, which stands at 38 percent. The city’s goal is a 60 percent recycling rate by 2010.

Yet the article goes on to explore the cost effectiveness of food recycling:
The bottom line is that recycling food waste may cost more than putting it in landfills — as much as $2.8 million a year, according to city estimates.
And the article asks “why bother?” Already the success of this new recycling seems uncertain.

A neighboring article examines suburb Kirkland’s recycling program:
Kirkland program seeing mixed results

Turkey carcasses, ham bones and fruitcake crumbs are being dumped in Kirkland yard-waste carts this season alongside more traditional items such as dried-up holly wreaths and Christmas trees.

Kirkland this month became the first city in the state to recycle residential food waste, although the new program is causing confusion among some residents. The city also is leading the way in other recycling efforts such as collecting unwanted electronic equipment and bags of reusable clothes and linens….

To re-energize recycling efforts, Kirkland delivered small, lidded plastic buckets to more than 10,000 households. The idea is that people put the buckets below their sink and fill them with food scraps. They then dump the contents of the buckets into their outdoor yard-waste carts for pickup. Greasy pizza boxes, food wrapping and other larger food-soiled items can be put directly into yard-waste carts.

Despite receiving information packets, refrigerator magnets and Web links explaining the program, some residents still are confused about the recycle plan. Others are unimpressed.

The city has been fielding hundreds of phone calls from people with questions about the new system, Scheerer said, and has so far retrieved about 200 buckets that people have attempted to throw away, either deliberately or accidentally…

“Some people put the whole bucket into the cart or leave the bucket outside to be collected,” he said.

“A lot of people don’t like to collect food scraps,” Whitley added. “They have a clean household and don’t like the idea of food sitting in the kitchen.”…

When Ted and I lived in San Jose, we enjoyed the thorough recycling program in the city. We could leave lawn clippings and branches in a pile in the street for pick-up. They also collected our cardboard and all kinds of recyclable containers.

Although I wasn’t aware of San Francisco’s new program, as mentioned above, and in these articles: Recycling: now more than ever and Winegrowers love city’s compost program: (excerpt below)…

Don’t feel too guilty about leaving food on your plate. Nowadays, leftovers recycled by city restaurants and residents make a comeback as fertilizer for grapes used in spicy cabernets and mellow chardonnays, thanks to an ambitious composting program.

…I wasn’t surprised to hear about it, after seeing what kind of recycling we had in San Jose.

Moving to Bainbridge was a bit of a shock for us. This community, a small island in the Northwest filled with forest and beaches, is known for environmental activism, for keeping trees and going organic, yet our garbage and recycling pick-up is minimum. Since we’ve moved here, the trucks have begun to pick up mixed paper and more plastic recyclables than before. The only kind of cardboard they will take is cereal box cardboard – and they are quite strict about that – no TV dinner boxes or pizza boxes or anything else. Many residents though do take their trash to the recycling station on their own. As someone who at the moment needs to go take some corregated cardboard down to the station myself, I sure wish they’d pick it up with the trash tomorrow morning! Electronics, food or linens, like Kirkland does, sounds fantastic too. When in years past I have asked Bainbridge Disposal why we don’t have a more expanded recycling program, I think the answer that came to me was that the island was too small, or that it would cost too much money to do.

Reading about Seattle and Kirkland’s efforts with food recycling makes me wonder…If food waste takes up a good percentage of garbage, and yet it is such an effort for people to learn to recycle it, and also not cost-effective to collect and transport it, then what might be a better solution?

One would be to learn to create less food waste in the first place. Use washable cloth napkins or rags rather than paper products. Conserve food as possible.

Since it sounds like the collection of the recycling is so costly, perhaps a better solution would be to manage it on a lower, more local level. Ideally, if each household had a worm bin and a compost bin then that would be quite effective. But that’s probably not realistic. I know that for myself, the thought of learning to make compost is a bit intimidating, and I’m not sure I’d be able to keep the brown/green mix going well, or that I’d have all the ingredients I need from my yard. I’ve wanted to do it but didn’t think I’d be successful by myself.

However, if food recycling was organized on a neighborhood or smaller community level, that would be more manageable. Neighbors could help each other with communal compost and worm bins. No costs of collection or transportation would be required. Participants could receive a credit on the disposal bill – actually participants should see their waste reduced and should receive automatic bill reduction that way anyway. It’d be a great way to gather together, to care for the community, get to know each other, and love the land where you live. I’d enjoy participating in a program like this, and since we live in a development, it’d be easy to see how it could work in a neighborhood like ours. Some of our neighbors already have compost and worm bins and I’m thinking about getting some ourselves, but it would be fun to share too.

But for recycling to work, it needs to be more than a program the disposal company or the city is promoting. It needs to be something people want to do. Pocket book pressures and plastic bins can help, but it needs to be a way of life, a mindset, truly organic.

Why should we bother consuming the same carrot or salmon twice? What do we have to lose, except what we have now, and what we want to pass on to our children? Why should we consume one more carrot or salmon if we don’t need to do so? Why not save them for someone else? I’d like to see my girls and the next generation enjoy all the blessings we have received, suffering as little as possible from consequences of our consumption. Recycling as a way of life simply makes sense.

Tags: news

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 enoch // Dec 31, 2003 at 10:02 am

    hmm… wines pick up the flavors from the nutrients in the soil they’re planted. I suppose the compost would be rich, but the grapes may pick up flavors you wouldn’t expect in that locale. I know this happens to a much greater extent with honey, as it picks up flavors from the pollen that brushes on their legs. I wonder how it’ll affect wine 😉

  • 2 poetry // Jan 4, 2004 at 12:28 am

    wow… for a second I thought they were going to ferment the food-scraps and literally make wine out of them.