MARIPOSA—Going green without going in the red was the topic of discussion during a recent meeting for local restaurant and market owners hosted by High Country Health Foods & Café. Guest speakers were Mariposa County Supervisor Kevin Cann; Mark Gallagher, Environmental Resource Manager for Delaware North Companies (DNC) in Yosemite National Park; and, Michael Gover, executive chef at Yosemite Lodge.
Supervisor Cann, who is a member of the local AB939 Solid Waste Task Force, gave a brief history of solid waste management in the County and explained the background behind the Board of Supervisors’ decision to put out a request for proposals for privatization of the Landfill, Compost Facility and Recycling Center, which is currently operated by the County Public Works Department.
“The place is pretty good for a landfill right now,” Supervisor Cann said. However, he added that about $800,000 more than what is being generated in fees and recycling income is needed for proper maintenance and staffing and to comply with State regulations.
The Supervisor said that the composition of the local waste stream has changed dramatically since a preliminary study was undertaken in the early 1990’s, with the amount of plastic increasing by more than 400 percent, thanks in large part to the proliferation of plastic water bottles and shopping bags. As an example, Dave Sizemore, who represented Pioneer Market at the meeting, said that their supermarket goes through about 60,000 plastic shopping bags every two months and the recycling bin in front of the store has to be emptied five or six times each day. Thousands of plastic bags that are not recycled end up in the Compost Facility and Landfill.
One way to increase efficiency and lower operating costs both at the Facility and at the source is to create a compostable waste stream through the purchase of compostable products and the separation of organic from inorganic wastes, a practice DNC has instituted in Yosemite. The company has been working with the staff at the Compost Facility to determine which types of materials break down during the composting process and which do not. Gallagher said that some of the products already in use, such as polycoated cold cups, quickly decomposed, which meant that they could be part of a compostable waste stream. For other products, such as plastic cutlery, biodegradable substitutes had to be found. (The terms biodegradable and compostable are often used interchangeably, although some biodegradable products contain plastic and truly compostable materials do not.)
Gover said that when the price of crude oil spiked, the cost of plastic products followed suit, resulting in a cost savings when the company transitioned to compostable dinnerware. The money they saved allowed them to purchase somewhat more expensive compostable trash bags made from a cornstarch polymer for their new organic waste stream.
Susan Posey from Sugar Pine Restaurant, said that she has also found compostable cutlery to be less expensive than plastic.
The next step was to put in place a system for separating compostable from non-compostable waste. Gover decided to start in the kitchens of the main restaurants in the Park. He placed a white trash can for food and paper waste, including bones, meat and paper products, next to a gray one for non-compostables. Other materials that could be recycled, such as metal cans and cardboard, were already being removed. According to Gover, about half of the waste stream at the restaurant, which serves 600,000 to 700,000 meals annually, is compostable.
After training the kitchen staff, Gover took the program out to the dining room, where busboys were trained to separate compostables from non-compostables, a comparatively simple task since, Gover said, “there is nothing out there that isn’t reusable or compostable.”
“Within a week (the system) manages itself,” Gover said. “It’s very uncomplicated. It would have been very complicated if there had been a mix of plastic and compostables.”
Gallagher said the program has recently been expanded to include Park residences and the pizza parlor.
In addition to the savings in supplies, DNC has also saved about $15,000 in hauling costs, since the tipping fee for compostable waste containing less than five percent contamination from non-compostables is $55 per ton compared with $121 per ton for mixed solid waste. The Park’s solid waste hauler makes a run in the Park for trash, then returns for the compostables. The compostable bags make it easy for the Landfill staff to identify. Because they contain less than 5% non-compostables, the bags can be placed directly into the compost vaults, saving staff time by eliminating the need to run them through the sort line.
Gover said that, because of the high volume of waste generated in the Park kitchens, it was easier for DNC to start a separate compostable trash run than it would be for local businesses, but added that “at the user end, (sorting) isn’t hard.” He and Gallagher both offered assistance to get a similar program started in Mariposa.
Restaurants and markets interested in participating in a compostable waste program should contact Bob Pickard at .