Information provided by San Benito County Integrated Waste Management.
Where does all the food waste, pizza boxes and yard waste go once it's placed curbside in the new green carts and picked up by Recology San Benito County? Hollister Boy Scout Troop 436 found out a few weeks ago when they toured Recology's South Valley Organics composting faciliity in Gilroy. The tour related to part of the scouts' coursework to earn Sustainability Merit Badges.
According to a recent press release, Recology South Valley Organics receives over 40,000 tons of food scraps and yard trimmings from neighboring jurisdictions and the food waste is turned into compost.
Eleven scouts in the troop are focused on learning about conserving natural resources by reducing their carbon footprint via recycling, composting and conserving water, the press release said. The reward is earning their Sustainability Merit Badge after completing the coursework and field trips.
"The Sustainability Merit Badge is one of 13 Eagle rank approved badges to earn and is the often-coveted, but rarely achieved award," Scoutmaster John Morin said. "Eagle Merit Badges are particularly important and are often more rigorous and take longer to complete, in some cases many months or even years."
As part of Troop 436's Sustainability Merit Badge journey, each scout must come up with ways to reduce their food waste at home and teach their parents about composting along the way.
When Troop 436 toured Recology's compost site, they learned that food waste is turned into organic certified compost through a closely monitored process. Scouts were suprised to learn that compost enriches soil health, reduces or eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers and reduces weed growth.
"It's important for youth to learn about composting and organics collection because it is going to be part of everyday life going forward," said Recology General Manager Phil Couchee, who led the tour. "It will be up to our youth to carry on programs being developed now, in order to save landfill space and preserve natural resources."
Scoutmaster Morin pointed out that "Too often our youth teach us more than we teach them. We see it all the time where our children bring us in and hold us more accountable than we may normally be with key initiatives and matters." He added that "Faith, social justice, and sustainability are often movements led by our young people. In general, our youth are more aware of the environment around us, and sustainability really is about them and their children having a viable community, country, and world in which to pass on. Bottom line: They will be teaching us how to use the recycling and organics recycling bins correctly and making sure we maximize each morsel for composting."
Additionally, the boy scouts also learned more about water conservation from Water Resources Association of San Benito County Conservation Program Manager Shawn Novack. Novack connected the importance of water conservation and composting by saying "Adding compost to your soil on a regular basis increases the amount of water your soil can hold, therefore decreasing the amount of times you need to apply water to your landscape. Compost improves soil texture, holds moisture and nutrients for plants."
Novack said that putting food scraps in the garbage disposal is not the answer.
"While it may be convenient, your garbage disposal is a water hog," Novack said. "It can use more than 10 gallons of water every time you use it. Instead of putting food waste down the drain, save those leaves, rinds and stems (for the organics bin) and making compost. Not only do you save water, but the compost will help your soil hold more water so you don't have to irrigate as much, which is a 'win-win' for water conservation."
San Benito County Integrated Waste Management staff recommends residents take advantage of the new free compost giveaway events that are held throughout the year by Recology and use the compost in their gardens and landscaping. The new organic collection program helps San Benito County because 30 percent of what county residents and businesses dispose of to landfill is food waste, the press release said. When food waste is composted instead of put in a landfill, it reduces the amount of methane emissions from the landfill. Methane emissions are a major contributor to climate change.
Composting food waste instead of putting it in the landfill also helps San Benito County meet state laws AB 1383 and AB 1826 that require food waste to be composted, not landfilled. The new organics collection program also helps the county meet state law AB 32 which requires jurisdictions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2020.