Alongside yard clippings and leaves, Tacoma residents can now start adding food waste to their brown recycling bins. Tacoma's Solid Waste Management has started distributing some 54,000 breadbox-sized brown totes that residents can use to collect their uneaten lima beans, mashed potatoes and pork chop scraps for recycling instead of just tossing the food waste into the trash ... or, for hard-to-please youngsters, from hiding them in nearby planters until their mothers leave the room.
“Our new food-waste recycling service offers customers the ability to reduce their garbage and allows us to recycle material that would otherwise go into the landfill,” said Jetta Antonakos, food waste recycling program manager.
This voluntary recycling program is being offered free of charge as a way to cut back on the amount of trash that flows into the landfill. A garbage report done three years ago found that otherwise recyclable food waste made up one-third of the garbage generated from Tacoma’s single-family households annually. That is 540 pounds of food waste from each household. Multiply that by some 50,000 residential units and it totals some 14,544 tons of additional waste that could have been recycled. That is more than 2,000 school buses, or 95 blue whales or roughly half of a Boeing 747, just in case you are looking for a comparison. And in case you really do not like lima beans, that is 37,232,640 of them.
The effort follows a similar program the city tried out on businesses last year that involved 65 customers from businesses such as restaurants, grocery stores, florists, cafeterias, offices and a school.
“The pilot program is successful based on customer satisfaction, very little contamination and continued participation. In 2011, Solid Waste Management collected 720 tons of food waste from participating businesses,” spokeswoman Elle Warmuth said. "Solid Waste Management continues its evaluation of the pilot program and will use the results to potentially develop a permanent commercial food waste recycling program.”
While each household receives a little brown bucket for food collection, the totes are meant to provide households a way to conveniently collect food waste without making daily trips to the garbage cans outside. They are not required to recycle food waste. All customers have to do is put their food waste in a city-supplied brown yard waste containers. The trick is to remember that the brown bin is for yard and food waste, while the blue bin is for clean cardboard, metals and plastics. A tip to keeping down odors and pests associated with food waste is to empty the bin regularly as well as line the bin with newspaper for easier cleaning.
The new program does not add costs to the city since the trucks to process both trash and recyclables are already in place, and the city might save a bit of money by having to pay for fewer trips to the landfill, Warmuth said. The real winner is the environment.
“Food is a significant contributor to methane generated in the landfill,” she said. “The more food we keep out of the landfill, the more we reduce the generation and emissions of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas.”
Recycling food into compost is a better use of those scraps since the vitamins and nutrients they contain get recycled back into soil through the compost, which leads to stronger plants. The food waste is taken to a state-of-the-art processing facility in Puyallup, where it is converted into a compost called Pierce County Recycled Earth Products, or PREP. The PREP compost is high in calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorous. These plant nutrients make PREP compost superior to bark, peat, or peat moss used in potting soil mixes as well as reduces the amount of fertilizer required for optimum plant nutrition. It is available for pickup or delivery from a host of waste management entities at a cost of about $20 a cubic yard, but distribution centers are out of stock until May.