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Food scraps become compost in Recology Yuba-Sutter program
All those unused veggies chopped away when cooks are preparing salads and other entrees at one Yuba City restaurant are not going in the trash anymore.
And neither are those leftover bread crusts, or other leftovers at the same restaurant one did not quite finish or take home. Instead, they are being worked into a Recology Yuba-Sutter program, soon to expand, and turning into fluffy, dark compost for sale to farms across the region.
"We let Mother Nature do the work," said Jordan Norris, an environmental specialist with Recology, as he led visitors past windrows of developing compost at the company's transfer facility east of Marysville.
About eight months ago, Recology began a pilot program to add food scraps to its composting program, which primarily uses lawn clippings and other green waste. Three businesses are taking part: Walmart and Sam's Club, and the Dancing Tomato Caffe in Yuba City.
Restaurant owner Shar Katz said it took only a few days before she had trained her staff to put food scraps somewhere other than the regular trash.
"A lot of folks are already doing it at home," said Katz, who owns a second restaurant, Cafe Italia in Davis, where food scraps have gone into compost for years.
"We've gotten through all the kinks down there."
By having her food scraps separated, Katz said, she is both making environmental sense and saving dollars and cents. After she started, she reduced her six-yard trash bin to a two-yard one.
"All change is a little scary," she said. "But the benefits outweigh the fear. After I showed my husband the numbers with our trash bill, it convinced him."
Twice a week, Recology picks up the food scraps from its pilot locations and takes them to the transfer station. Norris said the pilot program has been strict on what goes into the scrap bin, to prevent another employee from having to pull out noncompostable trash later, as one does now with the yard waste.
At the transfer station, trucks dump the scraps into 10-foot-high rows with the yard waste. A water truck sprays them daily, and a loader turns the rows over once a week.
Norris said, through trial and error, Recology determined the best compost comes from those two elements, and time: Eight to 10 weeks under open skies.
"We're continually looking at it, saying 'what's causing this, what's causing that,'" he said. At the end of the period, the windrows are run through a final screen to produce a surprisingly soft dirt similar to peat in texture and appearance.
From there, Recology sells the compost for use in orchards, row crops, vineyards and other agricultural operations around Yuba-Sutter. For farmers, Norris said, using compost means less need for water, better yields, and reduction, if not elimination, of synthetic fertilizers.
Though the program has continued with the same three partners after the pilot phase ended, Norris said, Recology is exploring both adding more commercial food operations and allowing residential customers to put their scraps in their green waste bin.
When the company begins spreading the word, Katz said, she is willing to be at the outreach forefront.
"I do Dumpster dives all the time, and I'm not afraid to say it," she said. "I don't want to be the only restaurant doing this."
CONTACT Ben van der Meer at email@example.com or 749-4786. Find him on Facebook at /ADbvandermeer or on Twitter at @ADbvandermeer.