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Oct 11

Organic Recycling and Modesto's Green Can

Posted on October 11, 2018 at 11:49 AM by Thomas Reeves

Since 1997 Modesto residents have used both a black and green can as part of their standard garbage service.  They’re the same size, picked up the same day of the week (sometimes even by the same truck), and taken to the same transfer stations in south Modesto to be processed.

But these two cans are radically different in what they contain, how they are treated, and their impact on the City. 

The Organic Recycling Container
The Organic Recycling Container (commonly known as your “green” or “yard waste” can) is where you can dispose of all organic or compostable material.  Yard waste – grass clippings, leaves, weeds, brush trimmings, and any other small yard waste – is the most commonly disposed-of item.  In the City of Modesto, residents are not permitted to pile up this green waste in front of their house for street-side pickup (except during December when city crews pick up only leaves for the winter leaf drop).  All of that kind of organic debris must go in the Organic Recycling Container.

You may be surprised to learn there are other kinds of waste that can go in the Organic Recycling Container. Any food, including meat, bones, dairy, spoiled leftovers, kitchen scraps and trimmings, can also go into the green bin.  

The City makes it even easier; thanks to our partnership with Gilton and Bertolotti, residents can have a free kitchen bin to hold food scraps until they’re ready to empty them into the green can.

Paper products – cardboard, paper towels, mail, newspapers, and magazines – are also acceptable items for the green bins.  These items are especially useful when the contents of the Organic Recycling Container are being composted; they absorb some liquid to make the product more evenly moist, and they provide extra carbon to balance with nitrogen acquired from grass, fruits, vegetables, and other food waste. 

After the pickup
Your Organic Recycling Container is picked-up once a week on your garbage day.  Depending on the garbage company (Modesto partners with two), the material is transported to the company’s transfer stations where it is ground and reloaded into larger trucks for further transport.  The ground organic material is then taken to the compost facility, and since the facility is owned and operated by the city, the garbage companies pay less per ton than they would at a traditional disposal site. 

The compost facility further grinds and filters the incoming waste from green cans and other pickup and maintenance work, reducing it to a size that will encourage faster microbial breakdown of the organic material.  The material is distributed into long windrows covering nearly 20 acres, churning, watering, and monitoring the process over the course of roughly 16 weeks.  Material in the windrows can reach over 150-180 degrees, which ensures that spores and seeds are killed in the process.  

When the compost is ready, it is a dark, organically-rich mixture with appropriate nitrogen and carbon levels to be used as a certified organic humus-like soil.  Monthly testing of pathogens and metals is completed, and a state inspector is onsite monthly to ensure the process follows state laws and water and air board regulations.

Why Organic Recycling?
The Organic Recycling Container was an early innovation, implemented before mandatory organic recycling, which today looms in California’s policy.  While other cities and regions are struggling to conceive of and implement organic and commercial recycling programs, the City of Modesto is perfecting our twenty-year-old program.  Even cities ahead of the curve on recycling transport their organic waste out of the county to privately-owned compost and organic processing facilities.  Modesto owns and operates its own.

New residents to Modesto frequently ask, “Why no blue bin?” The products that you typically think of when you consider recycling, like plastic, cans, and glass, actually make up about 25% of most residential trash.  According to studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency over 30 years, the majority of municipal solid waste is made of organic material.  

In a program like the City of Modesto’s, where all food scraps, paper, and yard waste can be composted, about 60% of the residential waste stream can be diverted away from landfills.  Additionally, recycling centers around the city will refund residents for glass, metal, and plastic, meaning that much of it doesn’t end up in garbage containers anyway.

How is the compost used?
The City of Modesto’s Compost Facility produces 30,000 tons of compost every year, which is sold to residents and businesses in the community.  The current price for one cubic yard is $18.00, and the site is open to the public Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM- 3:30 PM; our team will even load your truck beds. 

The City of Modesto also uses compost in its own projects.  It’s used when planting new city trees or filling holes throughout our park and street systems.  The same organic waste you throw away could be used to facilitate growth in new trees planted along the roads in your community.  And when those same trees are trimmed by City, the waste is again sent to the compost facility to produce more compost. 

Here’s the challenge
The City has not been able to use much of its own compost for planting projects in parks due to contamination; in short, there’s stuff in your green cans that shouldn’t be there and cannot be composted.  Despite the constant monitoring of incoming waste, and sorting and filtering during production, trace contaminants – especially glass and plastics – do make it into the final product which greatly limits its application. 

If a resident dumps trash into the green can, the garbage truck driver may not see the contamination until he has already dumped it into the truck.  If the contaminants make it in with a truckload of green waste, that entire load cannot be treated as organic waste; it must instead go to the landfill. 

If contamination is not caught, the trash may be ground in with green waste and delivered to the compost facility, and I am willing to bet you don’t want bits of glass ground up with the compost material used in your yard or in our parks.  
Residents are responsible for keeping contamination out of the Organic Recycling Container.  Placed on every can is a green and white sticker that gives you more information about what can and cannot go into the green can.  If you are ever unsure, please call our Solid Waste division at (209) 577-5494 and the team can answer questions about acceptable items. 

How is the City of Modesto addressing this challenge?
Starting in November 2018, our Solid Waste division will be increasing random inspections of cans on collection days.  Any contamination or misuse of the containers will result in an immediate citation.  The citation schedule is as follows:
1st Offense $100 fine
2nd Offense $250 fine, removal of Organic Recycling Can and residents must schedule a meeting with the Code Enforcement Officer to have it returned
3rd Offense $500 fine and permanent removal of Organic Recycling Container

These fines are a direct result of the cost of additional enforcement and of the transportation of waste to the landfills.

The city will also be stepping up its enforcement with the garbage companies; less leeway will be permitted with contaminated loads.  We will be requiring truck drivers to notify the city daily of contaminated cans inspected on their routes. 

In addition to this increased enforcement, we’re researching new methods of sorting and grinding incoming loads in order to allow for more effective contamination removal.  

Ultimately, having a successful program relies on the homeowners, who should use the black and green cans to the fullest extent while keeping contaminants out; on the garbage companies, who are charged with being vigilant and cautious about how they process their incoming loads; and on the City of Modesto, which must enforce the code and use the best tools available to produce a clean product for our residents. 

Thank you for your help in keeping Modesto clean.