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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus

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   Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | santa cruz county

Coalition for Waste Alternatives ponders options

by Karin Grobe

What will you do with your garbage when all the local landfills are closed? Burn it? Ship it somewhere else? Bury it in your backyard? Santa Cruz County residents have demonstrated strong opposition to siting any new landfills in the county. The Buena Vista landfill will be full in 15 years, and it's just a matter of time until the landfills run by the cities of Santa Cruz and Watsonville fill up. What do we do after that?

Workers check food scraps for contaminants such as plastic bags at this compost site near Portland, OR. Photo - Karin Grobe


Santa Cruz County residents interested in promoting environmental solutions to the garbage problem have formed the Coalition for Waste Alternatives. The group's mission is to help shape the long-term waste management strategy of Santa Cruz County by:

o Influencing the Santa Cruz County Integrated Waste Management Local Task Force to implement the most environmentally and socially responsible long-range waste management program possible;

o Lobbying elected officials in support of new diversion programs and full implementation of existing programs;

o Promoting new aggressive waste diversion alternatives and incentives.

The Santa Cruz County Integrated Waste Management Local Task Force has advanced a number of waste-cutting measures, among them a Zero Waste resolution, mandatory recycling, mandatory trash collection in the urban area and a 10-gallon garbage can option. The Coalition will be weighing in on these measures which could help tremendously in extending the life of the county landfill. Opposition to mandatory recycling may come from businesses and apartment managers who don't want to sort their garbage.

According to the 1999 county waste sort, food waste accounts for 30% of the material in residential garbage carts. Food waste at restaurants is about 65% of refuse and ranges from 25-40% in agricultural, retail food, finance/real estate and other service-oriented businesses. The county would like to provide for food waste collection at all businesses and residences. Programs for food scrap collection and composting have been successful in reducing waste in San Francisco and East Bay cities, and the resulting compost has been approved for use on organic farms. A compost facility would require 20 or more acres. It could stand alone or be coupled with other waste-handling facilities. Sensitivity and hard work will be needed to identify space suitable for composting.

An updated waste composition analysis is slated to occur next year. When the results are known (probably at the end of 2006), the County will learn if the types of garbage have changed since 1999 and what steps might most effectively reduce waste even more.

Until Zero Waste is achieved, there will be some garbage to deal with. Ideas on the table include waste export, waste-to-energy, anaerobic digestion, pyrolysis, gasification, and production of refuse-derived fuels. All of these options have environmental consequences. Gathering information on these processes from sources other than those selling the technology is critical to making an informed decision.

If you wish to receive email updates and alerts regarding solid waste, contact Karin Grobe, 427-3452,

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