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Compost pails coming to 51,000 SLO County homes

One of the new food-scrap pails that will soon be distributed to 51,000 homes in San Luis Obispo County.
One of the new food-scrap pails that will soon be distributed to 51,000 homes in San Luis Obispo County. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Thousands of San Luis Obispo County residents soon will receive free food-scrap pails so they can turn their banana peels, cornhusks, apple cores and other toss-aways into compost, reducing the load on local landfills.

In the long term, methane produced during the composting process could eventually produce power for up to 650 homes a year.

Waste Connections, the private garbage disposal company serving most communities from San Simeon to Nipomo, will start distributing the containers Monday to 51,000 homes countywide.

Food waste — such as cooked and uncooked meat, fish, fruits and vegetables — can be disposed of in the containers. Peels, rinds, pits, grains and pasta can also be thrown in.

The scraps then can be discarded into green bins for weekly curbside pickup, along with lawn trimmings, raked leaves and other plant waste. The green waste will be recycled at an outdoor compost facility in Santa Maria that is operated by Engel & Gray Inc., which already takes Waste Connections’ green waste and works closely with vineyards and retail stores to supply them with the finished compost.

“The goal is to keep all organic waste out of the landfills,” said Patrick Fenton, Waste Connections’ district manager.

The goal is to keep all organic waste out of the landfills.

Patrick Fenton, Waste Connection district manager

Waste Connections serves residents along the entire North Coast, from San Simeon to Los Osos; San Luis Obispo; and all of South County, from Shell Beach to Nipomo.

Residents in the North County, including Paso Robles, Atascadero and San Miguel, are served by three separate waste companies and aren’t a part of this new program.

Waste Connections owns Mission Country Garbage, South County Sanitary, San Luis Garbage, Morro Bay Garbage and Coastal Rolloff, and they collect waste in their respective pockets of the county.

Waste Connections is working with a Japanese company, Hitachi Zosen Inova, to establish an indoor composting facility at 4388 Old Santa Fe Road near the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport.

Waste Connections will lease the land to Hitachi Zosen Inova for the proposed anaerobic digestion plant, which would process food waste and green waste and then use the methane emitted from the heaps to produce energy.

About 20 percent of that energy would go back into operating the new facility, which is now in the county planning and permitting stages. The other 80 percent will be sold to PG&E to power about 600 to 650 homes per year, said William Skinner, the western regional sales representative for Hitachi Zosen Inova.

“On average, the digester will be fed multiple times per hour,” Skinner said. “Through the digestion process, we’ll be removing methane gas and then producing renewable energy.”

Methane produces greenhouse gases, and the new plant would reduce harmful emissions. The state has a goal to divert 75 percent of solid waste from landfills by 2020.

On average, the digester will be fed multiple times per hour. Through the digestion process, we’ll be removing methane gas and then producing renewable energy.

William Skinner, Western Region sales representative for Hitachi Zosen Inova

Hitachi Zosen Inova, which bought its anaerobic digestion technology from the Swiss company Kompogas, will sell the compost for agricultural purposes to a third-party distributor. That distributor will then sell to agricultural farmers in San Luis Obispo County, Skinner said.

The proposal to build a new 36,000-square-foot building goes before the county Planning Commission on Aug. 25 for consideration of a conditional use permit. The facility would not impact the area with odors or noise, said Fenton of Waste Connections.

If approved, the facility would begin operating in 2018.

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