Finance and Business

One Of The Dirtiest Jobs In San Francisco Is Dealing With Food Waste | World Wide Waste

more than a dozen trucks unload food waste here every day 80 miles east of san francisco the city was the first in the u.s to require everyone to separate out their compostable trash fruits vegetables tree branches and cardboard decompose here until they’re ready to be spread across surrounding farmland now the city composts and recycles more trash than it sends to the landfill that means san francisco’s saving water space and chemical fertilizers and reducing destructive greenhouse gases so how does composting work when it’s servicing a whole city and why aren’t more places doing it we went straight to san francisco’s compost pile to find out if this model can actually reduce worldwide waste an employee-owned company called recology collects all the trash recycling and compost that san francisco throws away since 2015 every home and business has used a separate bin for their food and yard waste it ends up here at this industrial composting yard [Music] it doesn’t look pretty now but here in a little bit i’ll show you the pretty part the process is designed to mimic what happens in nature it’s just like leaves falling on the ground around a tree but instead we’re using banana peels and coffee grounds we’re making a beautiful nutrient rich compost the whole thing takes 60 days and it does require a machinery like this this one here is a lubo screen what what it uses is big rubber stars and all the organics fall through and everything else bounces over the top of the stars as they spin the separator weeds out most of the plastic that people accidentally put in the compost bin that goes to the recycler or the landfill an eight foot wide trommel spins everything to sort it again by size this time into smaller pieces the larger things pass by over the top on a conveyor belt workers like abby morales pick out chunks of wood metal or anything that is too large to break down in the compost process a lot of people look at this as trash and for the most part that’s what it is trash but at the same time the other day i was just doing my job and in the trash i found a treasure twenty dollars bobby used to work at a restaurant when the pandemic hit and the industry was struggling he made a career change it’s a dirty job someone has to do it and i’m the guy that does it and i do it with joy the next step falls to the site’s tiniest workers microorganisms that chow down on the organic material that’s why airflow is so important that allows the microorganisms to breathe they’re just like you and i they need water and they need air see where my hand is right over the top of this this air pipe what this does is it forces air up through the compost the microbes also need just the right temperature we’ll reach temperatures from 160 to the 130s these microorganisms are real finicky if you have if you have a too hot of a system they’ll die off if it’s too cold they won’t grow pipes run underneath the compost rose and draw harmful gases to piles of chopped up almond trees called biofilters this stuff believe it or not came from across the street from one of the farmers microbes in the biofilters destroy these gases and prevent them from releasing into the atmosphere the biofilter will last about three years before it loses its composition and we have to replace it they spray water onto the compost rose to keep the material moist throughout the entire process you’ve seen all the ugly part now now you’re going to see the pretty part or at least what we call pretty two months after the scraps first land here this machine screens the compost one last time to remove any leftover pieces of plastic here’s what you see in the finished product nice moisture content a lot of organics in there every ton of food and yard waste transforms into a little under half a ton of finished compost that’s because a lot of the water weight evaporates in the composting process reecology sells it to farms vineyards and ranches across the central valley in northern california and uses the profits to help fund its operations we talk about farm to fork we we’re thinking about fort back to farm you know rather than it going to waste we put it to good use this is san francisco’s main waste transfer station for compost and trash this 18-foot deep garbage pit used to get filled to the brim every day but now it might be three feet deep or four feet deep and sometimes we can see the concrete bottom today san francisco keeps most of what it throws away out of landfills that’s a big change from 25 years ago when california was running out of space to bury its trash since then san francisco has composted 2.5 million tons of garbage that’s enough trash to fill more than 13 salesforce towers the tallest skyscraper in the city we weren’t very good at making compost in the beginning but we cut our teeth on that the city incentivizes homes and businesses to comply with composting laws if you’re a restaurant and the majority of what you’re discarding is organic and you’re not composting your built your refuse rate your bill with your ecology is gonna be through the roof but if you compost it’s gonna be lower we’re forcing you to save money but composting doesn’t only save landfill space it’s also a climate solution in a landfill food breaks down in a tightly packed environment without oxygen that kind of rotting produces methane a harmful greenhouse gas 80 times worse than carbon dioxide composting keeps that from happening and when it’s spread on farms compost helps store co2 in the soil so when you compost your food scraps in san francisco you’re actually helping turn a vineyard into a carbon sink and there’s more compost is a natural sponge that attracts and retains water california growers are willing to try anything to save water after more than 20 years of extreme droughts so if composting reduces food waste and helps farmers why aren’t more places doing it there are over 700 composting programs across the u.s like san francisco the city of seattle and the state of vermont have also mandated composting and 24 states have laws in place banning yard waste from landfills but the practice is optional in most places if a municipal program exists at all in washington dc you have to drop off your food waste or pay a company to pick it up new york city canceled its composting program in 2020. it’s due to restart in fall 2021 but it still won’t cover the whole city that residential composting program that was discontinued was funded out of their general fund so obviously it’s competing with covert relief funds competing with covent testing funds that’s a hard argument to make politically right san francisco funds its program like a utility so customers pay recology directly each month so that creates that protection around our programs but composting still isn’t the best solution for solving food waste according to the epa it ranks composting second to last from a carbon perspective we want food to be eaten by people first or not produce at all about a third of food produced globally still gets thrown out but even in a perfect world you would still have some food scraps you’d still have some banana peels and apple cores and coffee grounds and all those things came from a farm and they ought to be made into compost so they can go back to a farm starting in 2022 the entire state of california will require compost collection and food donation programs that means building many more of these facilities across the state if the state meets its goals it would save 26 million tons of organic waste from going to landfills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about one percent every year it’s just important it’s the right thing to do we can’t just keep burying things and you know the problem doesn’t go away there we have to find solutions you
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