An Award-Winning Food Recycling Project

11.02.2011

Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority Receives Gold in the Solid Waste Association of North America’s Recycling Systems

Public recognition for recycling and waste prevention programs helps to build momentum, raise awareness, and can even increase program participation. ESA’s Renewable Resources Team worked with Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority (CCCSWA) to develop their Food Recycling Project, an award-winning model of successfully reducing a commercial waste stream. We collaborated with CCCSWA on a recent award application submittal to the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) for a chance to receive recognition for their outstanding food recycling program. We were excited to learn that the Project received Gold in the Recycling Systems Award category! Learn more and look at the award application on SWANA's website.

The CCCSWA is located in the San Francisco Bay Area and has worked with ESA’s Renewable Resources Team members Judith Silver to plan and implement the Food Recycling Project. ESA has provided project management and essential support in contacting and training participating businesses.

This Project, now in its third year of operation, successfully recovers 30 tons of discarded food waste per week from CCCSWA’s five-city service area, with the goal of tripling in size. Material is sent to the East Bay Municipal Utility District’s (EBMUD) waste water treatment facility where it is anaerobically digested with biosolids to create methane gas. This gas is captured and burned to generate “green” electricity that powers the facility, and excess energy is sent to the grid. A second product of the digestion process is a compost–like material that is used as a soil amendment.

The Food Recycling Project is free to participants and is open to restaurants, grocery stores, schools, assisted living facilities and hotels in the CCCSWA service area. AWS and ESA work together to strategically identify local businesses based on their potential for high generation of food scraps and based on their location within the CCCSWA’s service area, to optimize route density and provide adequate customer service.

Over 320 businesses have been identified as potential participants and thus far. ESA’s Renewable Resources Team has provided recruitment and training for more than 200 participating businesses. In working with EBMUD, ESA framed the Food Recycling Project to accept pre-and post- consumer food discards, but not food soiled paper or waxed cardboard due to existing equipment constraints.

A neighboring Bay Area city also uses the EBMUD facility, but relies on highly mechanized and expensive pre‐processing before disposal at EMBUD. The CCCSWA knew it could not afford this approach, so with assistance from Allied Waste Services (AWS) the agency designed the source‐separation approach and relied on ESA’s Renewable Resources Team to deliver effective training for program participants to ensure appropriate materials collection. The key characteristic that sets the CCCSWA’s Food Recycling Project apart from other commercial food collection programs is its reliance on the food generator to collect clean pre‐ and post‐ consumer food scraps with little or no contamination. The Project has shown that with extensive training and oversight, the food generating businesses can be responsible for keeping their food waste free of contaminants.

Program participant training sessions, led by ESA, are scheduled at the convenience of the food generator, often early in the morning or between lunch and dinner. Management and kitchen staff are encouraged to attend the training sessions to underscore the importance of the program and to ensure a thorough understanding of participant responsibilities and expectations.

This successful program includes some of CCCSWA’s largest food waste generators: St. Mary’s College in Moraga; Diablo Foods in Lafayette; Whole Foods in Walnut Creek and Lafayette; and numerous small cafes and local restaurants including Stanford’s in Walnut Creek. Stanford’s Executive Chef Rick Green was an early fan of the Food Recycling Project and was able to reduce his weekly garbage service from one four-cubic-yard bin to one two-yard bin serviced once per week. He generates five 64 gallon carts of program materials that are serviced twice per week. Chef Green is a huge proponent of the Food Recycling Project saying, “I love the program. It makes so much sense. My waste is actually a resource, and now it’s going to the right place. Plus, I’m saving money.”

The Project is available to participating establishments at no additional cost. This is unique in the Bay Area. Other communities that offer commercial organics services provide a discount (usually 50% or 75% the cost of garbage service). Offering the program at no additional cost encourages the sharing of carts and bins among program participants located in close proximity, increasing the likelihood that participants will join the program and realize a reduction in their overall garbage service fees if they avidly recycle all recoverable materials in their waste including food.

The SWANA award is a source of pride to CCCSWA staff, program participants, and Board members alike. It inspires additional businesses to join the program and promotes the long-term commitment of the program partners to continue to work together to divert more and more organics.

For more information about this project or ESA's Renewable Resources services, contact Jeff Caton.