Toss an apple core and a metal can into your yard—which will disappear ﬁrst? The core, of course. Toss them into a landﬁll and guess which one? The can!
Here’s why. Metal oxidizes, forming rust. Microorganisms break the can down into simple molecules, although it will take hundreds of years to disappear in a landfill.
But things that biodegrade—like the apple core, tree trimmings, food waste and paper—biodegrade very slooowly in landfills, because the artificial landfill environment doesn’t have the air, water, and bacterial activity needed for the decaying process.
That’s because a landfill is carefully designed to isolate trash from the surrounding environment (the air, groundwater that might be used for drinking water or irrigation, and rain that might run off into our streets). Under these conditions, trash won’t decompose very much. A landfill is not like a compost pile, where organic waste is buried so it will decompose quickly (see “How it Works)”.
The Garbage Project is a waste study conducted at the University of Arizona. Students there dug up the landfill and found hot dogs, corncobs and grapes that were 25 years old and still recognizable! And they found newspapers dating back to 1952 that were still readable.
What about plastic? Plastic photodegrades—it degrades under ultraviolet radiation from the sun. But there’s no light in that landfill. When will it degrade?
The estimates of 200 years, 400 years or 1,000,000 years to decompose in a landfill are a scientific way of saying “a really, really, really long time.” Instead, recycling and composting can make those items disappear like magic! And a bonus: it takes 1/20 of the energy to recycle aluminum products as it does to smelt aluminum from scratch.
...that you probably didn’t know.
The average home move requires 60 boxes, which is more than half of a one-ton pine tree.
The average person moves 11 times, about 6 trees worth of boxes.
Americans move 42,000,000 times a year: 28,560,000 trees!
Recycling cardboard requires only 75% of the energy used to make completely new cardboard.
Cardboard can be recycled over and over and over!
To make cardboard, trees are chopped, chipped, mixed together with recycled cardboard, boiled into pulp, dried and rolled.
Break down boxes to recycle—much easier to fit into your recycling cart!
You can leave tape and labels on cardboard boxes.
Cardboard pizza and food boxes go in your green cart for composting because the grease and food would contaminate the clean cardboard in your blue recycling cart.
“Recycling is good because we can reuse and re-purpose items and that’s better for the environment,” says Cassius Bell, 5th grader at Tice Creek School in Walnut Creek.
Tice Creek promotes project-based learning. Students work for an extended time on investigating an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem or challenge and then create a project or product presented to people beyond the classroom.
It’s no wonder they went all in on the “4 Rs” for schools: reduce, reuse, recycle and rot.
Tara Bell is one of the parent Green Team leaders (Cassius’ mom) assigned to each classroom, along with a student leader. “We replaced foam lunch trays with compostable trays, we have recycle and compost bins in the lunch room and every classroom, and compost bins in the restrooms for paper towels.”
Next to go will be the dreaded “spork” packets (plastic bag, plastic spork and napkin). “I watch kids throw the whole packet into the landfill bin,” Bell says. “Instead, we can have napkin and fork dispensers so each item is disposed of in the right bin.”
Tice Creek is now recycling 74% of its waste away from the landfill and might make the 75% Statewide recycling goal this year!
City of Orinda, you rock! You’ve achieved a 70% overall diversion rate from the landfill for both residential and commercial. That’s 2,165 tons of recyclables that did not go into Landfill in 2016 just through October—the equivalent of taking 5 cars right off the road!
Your restaurants, grocery stores and other food-generating businesses diverted 182 tons of food waste to the Food Recycling Project, which allows EBMUD to convert food waste into electricity. In fact, enough electricity to power 2,366 homes for a year.
And not to be outdone, construction projects in Orinda diverted 702 tons of waste like concrete, dirt and roofing asphalt. Reprocessing this waste instead of creating new materials reduced CO2 emissions by 636 tons—we’d need to plant over 600 acres of forest to suck in that much CO2.
Keep it up, Orinda! And stay tuned for your city, everyone else! There are plenty more kudos to come.
Composting in the kitchen and yard.
Organics make up about two-thirds of our solid waste stream; a combination of food scraps, landscaping green waste, food and soiled paper. Organics need air, moisture and heat to activate the decaying process. Your organics are processed on 20 acres in Richmond for about 2-3 months. The result is very dark, earthy soil, certified to be safe and pathogen free—and perfect for growing more fruits, vegetables and grains that find their way right back to your table!
You can grow new celery from your leftovers! Before you use the celery, cut off about 2 inches of the entire base.
Put the base upright in a small bowl of warm water in a sunny spot and change the water every day.
You’ll see new leaves in about a week!
Put it in a planter or pot with drainage holes and cover it with dirt so just the leaves peek out.
You’ll see stalks in about another week.
Keep watering and snip off the thinner outer stalks if they wilt.
In a few months, you can snip a stalk and enjoy some ants-on-a-log!
The celery will keep on growing as long as you water it.
This will also work for lettuce, onions and other vegetables—time to experiment!
Our commercial food recycling program.
Your folks always told you to clean your plate...but if you can’t, now it won’t go to waste.
Because now there’s restaurant food recycling. More than 400 restaurants, grocery stores, schools and other large commercial and industrial food waste generators in the RecycleSmart service area participate in our Food Recycling Project.
Simply put, we turn the leftover food, grease and paper goods into electricity.
Republic Services collects the food waste, for no additional charge, and takes it to East Bay Municipal Water District’s wastewater treatment facility. The food is added to the “anaerobic digesters” that primarily process sewage waste. The digesters (called that because beneficial bacteria “digest” the waste) produce methane gas as a by-product. Big co-generation engines use captured methane to generate electricity that powers the entire water treatment facility, and then some. EBMUD sells the excess electricity to the Port of Oakland!
The leftover is a nutrient-rich compost-like material that is used as a soil amendment for non-food agricultural applications.
It’s a big win all around. Businesses save money by diverting waste out of their landfill bins, the environment benefits from smaller landfills and the renewable electricity reduces our dependence on fossil fuels.
Food recycling participating businesses.