by David Goldstein
Some people hate plastic bags. They don’t want to use plastic bags for the new food waste recycling program, even though residents in some parts of the county are required to separate food scraps from yard clippings and wood in organic waste carts by street edge.
The biggest environmental issue with plastic bags is the risk of windblown waste. The bags in this recycling program, however, when weighed down with food, are much less likely to become waste. Nevertheless, after many people expressed their dissatisfaction with the use of plastic bags last week, Harrison Industries made an accommodation. Customers served by Harrison Industries – residents of Ventura, Camarillo, Ojai and Fillmore – can now use paper bags that are securely fastened as long as the bagged foods are not so wet that they risk soaking the paper, creating a hole and spilling food into the organics cart.
For residents of these same areas, as well as residents of other areas, another change that some are asking for is the acceptance of biodegradable plastics. On my desk is a bundle of supposedly biodegradable plastic bags. A helpful person gave it to me in hopes that I would promote degradable plastic bags as a solution for both the “must bag” and “no bag” areas of the county. Similarly, some people have suggested degradable plastic as a solution to diverting “take-out” food items that are no longer reliably recycled from curbside recycling carts out of landfills.
Unfortunately, for the two local food composting programs, degradable plastic creates more problems than it can solve.
Degradable plastic is visually indistinguishable from regular plastic, and eliminating plastic from yard waste is important for producing quality compost and mulch. Therefore, despite the best intentions of environmentally conscious buyers of plastics made from cornstarch instead of petroleum, all plastic collected from organics recycling programs in Ventura County will be painstakingly removed. and eliminated.
In areas where residents are encouraged to place food scraps directly into curbside organic waste carts – Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Moorpark and Santa Paula – plastic bags increase sorting requirements and therefore , increase the costs of the new program. In areas where residents are asked to bag food and put the bags in organics carts — Oxnard, Ventura, Ojai, Camarillo and Fillmore — biodegradable bags, which can be flimsy, pose an increased risk tearing and spillage. If food leaks from the bags, excessive food contamination of yard waste could result in permit violations at local composting facilities handling yard waste and wood, but not yet licensed to receive segregated food waste.
Brandon Kaysen, the City of Ventura’s recycling manager, was one of the first recycling coordinators to tour new organics processing operations at the Gold Coast Recycling Center, where bags are removed from mixed loads, and at Agromin’s recycling operation at the Simi Valley Landfill, where food is removed from bags and transferred to Kern County for composting. Kaysen reports that the bags remain intact, despite pitting from the co-collected materials. This success in food separation, replicated in a similar sorting operation at Oxnard’s Del Norte Recycling Center, according to Todd Vasquez-Housley, Oxnard’s environmental resource manager, has allowed residents’ garden clippings to be composted locally. of Oxnard, Ventura, Camarillo, Fillmore and Ojai. , at the Limoneria farm and at a composting site in Ormond Beach, both operated by Agromin.
Besides sturdiness, the only other local requirement for bags comes from a carrier who prefers residents not to use bags at all. In areas collected by Athens services — Thousand Oaks and Santa Paula — residents are encouraged not to bag leftover food, but some customers insisted on bagging anyway. According to Rondi Guthrie, vice president of government affairs for Athens, these residents are asked to use only transparent bags. Sorters at a Sun Valley site remove organic waste, but if they see a bag contains food, they will open and empty the bag, she said.
If you live in an area with a bag-based program and hate bags, or if you live in a bag-free area but insist on putting all your trash in bags, there is another solution. Johnny Johnston, the former CEO of Ventura County, contacted me to ask for a comparison of the new curbside recycling program with home composting, which he has practiced for decades. Backyard composting is greener than participating in your new curbside recycling program. The less a truck has to stop, the less fuel it consumes and the less it pollutes. Backyard composting is also better for waste rates because the less the truck picks up, the lower the program costs.
David Goldstein, environmental resources analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at 805-658-4312 or [email protected].