Pilot project will turn organic waste into clean energy source

San Mateo County is set to launch a new landfill diversion pilot project that will convert organic materials into a clean energy source using an Organics Extrusion Press (OREX).

Today, the County’s Board of Supervisors approved funding for the OPEX, which is expected to begin operating in December this year.

From its home at the Shoreway Environmental Center in San Carlos, OREX is expected to extract between 50 and 75 tons of organic material per day from waste that would otherwise head to landfills and composting facilities. That material will then be anaerobically digested into a carbon-negative renewable natural gas that will be used by the East Bay Municipal Utility District. As importantly, it will reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfills, the County said. If the so-called Organics-to-Energy pilot succeeds, it would ideally be expanded, the County says.

Read the full article on Climate Online Redwood City here.

A Lot of the Stuff We Throw in Those Recycling Bins Is Really Just Trash

For most Californians, it’s a no brainer. Toss all your recyclables into a big blue bin, a truck comes to take it, and it all somehow gets recycled.

But it turns out this easy-as-1-2-3 scenario is at least part fantasy.

Much of what’s in our blue bins is simply trash — meaning, it doesn’t get recycled, but ends up in landfill. Last week KQED’s Brian Watt spoke about the issue and what can be done about it with Mark Murray, who directs the advocacy group Californians Against Waste.

The following excerpts have been edited for length and clarity.

You have said consumers have been lulled into thinking almost everything is recyclable.

Mark Murray: Well there’s been such a desire to divert material from landfill, and there has been a lack of appreciation of the difficulty consumers have in figuring out the details. So programs have erred on the side of saying, ‘Just throw it all in the bin.’ But we know that not all that material is recyclable.

Read the full story at KQED Science here.

One Thing You Can Do: Know Your Plastics

Ever notice those recycling symbols, the triangles with the numbers inside, on plastic packaging and containers? I always assumed they meant the plastic was recyclable. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Those numbers are resin identification codes, and they tell what kind of plastic the item is made from. And not all plastic is created equal.

Identifying what types of plastics are recyclable can be challenging because plastics do not always carry a resin code and because not all recycling programs are equal, either. Generally speaking, though, some categories of plastic are more widely recyclable in the United States.

Read the full story by Eduardo Garcia and Henry Fountain on New York Times site here.

Allied approach

Personal relationships are key to advancing recycling operations at RethinkWaste, San Carlos, California.

Joe La Mariana relies on relationships to keep materials moving and operations growing at South Bayside Waste Management Authority (SBWMA), which is more commonly known as RethinkWaste. The agency formed in 1982 with a goal of providing cost-effective waste reduction, recycling and solid waste programs to serve its member agencies in San Mateo County.

“From my understanding, [the agency] was formed at a property that was originally an old laundry facility that they converted into a transfer station and ultimately [to] a material recovery facility (MRF) in two large buildings on-site,” says La Mariana, executive director at RethinkWaste.

That site is known as the Shoreway Environmental Center, San Carlos, California. The center features a 70,200-square-foot MRF that handles commingled material and a 75,000-square-foot building that houses its transfer station. The site also features a public recycling center and an education center.

Read the full article by Megan Smalley at Recycling Today here.

Recycling crisis: China doesn’t want our waste. Now what?

Recycling used to be a money maker but now it’s costing us, and growing our landfills

With probes and clipboards, Chinese inspectors tour Bay Area recycling centers at least once a month, testing our trash to see if it meets their new high standards.

Until recently, almost all of our vast piles of plastic and paper refuse were sold and shipped overseas, promising a new life for much of what we so blithely tossed away.

Now much is rejected as wet, dirty or worthless – a reversal that has turned our once-reliable recycling world upside down, as prices plummet and the cost of cleanup soars.

Read the full story by by Lisa M. Krieger online at Mercury News here.

California must lead on cutting down plastic waste

At least we know the newspaper believes in some recycling.

Recently, editorial writers recycled a tired, old argument that environmental regulation is bad for business.

California proved that wasn’t true for emissions controls and renewable energy. We’re now economic leaders thanks in part to those regulations.

The newspaper now wants to use the same evidence-free argument against legislation to reduce and recycle plastic waste.

They got it all backwards.

Read the full story on the Orange County Register here.

Christmas tree pickup begins

Collectors eases process for those looking to recycle their former holiday centerpiece

Disposing of a Christmas tree is becoming easier than returning unwanted gifts placed under it.

For customers of RethinkWaste, which services most of the Peninsula, undressed trees 8 feet or shorter can be left on the curb during regular trash pickup day throughout January and they will be taken for free, said Executive Director Joe La Mariana.

Read the full story by Austin Walsh in the Daily Journal here.

It is time to cut use of plastics

The good news is, our collective efforts to reduce, reuse, recycle and compost have made San Francisco the most successful big city in America at reducing what goes to landfill.

The bad news is, plastics have become a huge issue for all of us. “60 Minutes”recently aired a powerful segment on plastic waste and its impact on the environment, along with the (as yet unsuccessful) efforts to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. A portion of that feature was filmed at Recycle Central at Pier 96 in San Francisco, which is Recology’s largest and most technologically advanced recycling facility.

For decades, Recology has captured plastic materials through our recycling programs in California, Oregon and Washington state, and marketed much of that material for reuse, principally throughout Asia. In other words, we had a place to send plastics.

However, a number of global policy reforms — most notably China’s National Sword program, which banned mixed plastic imports — have closed nearly all end markets for many plastic products.

After the fire, a new alarm is sounded

The aftermath of a 2016 fire at the Shoreway Environmental Center in California has included a call to action on how lithium-ion batteries are handled.

Fires have become distressingly common at recycling and solid waste facilities this decade, causing fire prevention efforts to become top of mind for today’s plant managers and executives. 

The leaders of San Carlos, California-based Rethink Waste are all too familiar with this phenomenon, having survived a blaze that tore through its materials recovery facility (MRF) two years ago. 

Rethink Waste Executive Director Joe La Mariana says he has gotten a new perspective in the aftermath of the fire, pushing the organization to advocate for what it considers critical policy changes. 

Catastrophic but pre-considered 

Rethink Waste, which describes itself as a joint powers authority of 12 public agencies in San Mateo County, California, provides waste handling and recycling services to much of the area. 

A considerable percentage of the authority’s activity takes place at the Shoreway Environmental Center, a municipal solid waste (MSW) transfer station and MRF in San Carlos operated by South Bay Recycling (SBR). Hauling services are provided by San Francisco-based Recology

The 70,000-square-foot Shoreway facility opened in May 2011 and was initially permitted to handle some 3,000 tons per day of MSW, dry recyclables and organics (food scrap and yard waste). 

In September 2016, five years after opening, the Shoreway Environmental Center was struck by a devastating fire that brought its operations to a halt. The fire occurred just five weeks into the tenure of La Mariana, who says the incident served as something a bit too close to a literal baptism by fire.

Read the full story by Brian Taylor in Waste Today here.

Where does it go?

County waste facilities weather changing tides of recycling, garbage trends

For many, the sight of a cardboard box might spark excitement about its contents or dread for an impending task to do something with it, likely flatten and recycle it.

But Joe La Mariana, executive director of RethinkWaste, sees something else in the sea of brown boxes trucked into the waste authority’s Shoreway Facility in San Carlos every day. Known for its tensile strength, cardboard can be reused up to 12 times, he explained, which makes it valuable on the international commodities market alongside Crystal Geyser water bottles and laundry detergent containers.

“The last three years in particular, the Amazon effect has really taken hold,” he said. “If we can still sort cardboard out, it has one of the highest values of all the recovered material.”

Serving some 435,000 customers from East Palo Alto to Burlingame, the Shoreway facility RethinkWaste manages includes a transfer station processing waste heading toward landfills and a material recovery facility which sorts recyclable materials and prepares them for their next use. Collectively, the 16-acre site annually processes some 500,000 tons of material, which La Mariana said is brought to the facility from some 95,000 households and 10,000 businesses by Recology trucks daily.

Read the full story by Anna Schuessler in the Daily Journal here.