If San Francisco can do it ...

Recology, the California-based garbage company that took over Ashland Sanitary and Recycling last week, has a program in San Francisco that takes food scraps from homes and restaurants and turns them into compost.

Recology officials told Ashland City Council members on Oct. 6 that they will listen to the desires of the community and could adopt expanded composting and recycling programs here if they are cost-effective and feasible.

San Franciscans have been able to have their food scraps — even meat and bones — taken away for composting for years. Yard trimmings also go into the nutrient-rich compost that is used by vineyards and farms.

Starting Wednesday, composting in San Francisco will become mandatory as the city pushes toward its goal of diverting 75 percent of material from landfills. The city hopes to achieve zero net waste by 2020.

The law is believed to be the first mandatory composting law in the country, according to the food service industry news service Nation's Restaurant News.

Businesses and residents there must sort food scraps and yard trimmings into a green garbage can. Regular recyclables such as paper go into a blue can, while remaining garbage goes into a black can.

Bread, dairy products, meat and bones, greasy pizza boxes, waxy paper milk and juice cartons, vegetables, fruits, leftovers scraped off restaurant customers' plates and tree branches less than 6 inches in diameter are among the items that San Franciscans can toss in their green garbage cans for composting.

The slogan used to help people understand what can go in the composting can is "Anything that used to be alive."

Ashland Sanitary and Recycling already has a composting program, but it is less far-reaching than the one in San Francisco.

Ashland Sanitary and Recycling — which will continue to operate under that name — has a composting program in which businesses that serve food can put uncooked vegetable and fruit trimmings, paper coffee filters, coffee grounds, tea bags and floral clippings in 35-gallon garbage cans. Meat, cooked food and post-consumer material, such as scrapings off customers' plates, are not allowed.

The monthly fee for a 35-gallon garbage can to hold compostable material is $5.65. That fee includes weekly pick-up. If a restaurant got rid of the same material in a regular garbage can, the fee would be $16.61 per month, according to Ashland Sanitary and Recycling.

More than 30 local businesses and organizations take part in the commercial compost program, including restaurants, coffee shops, schools, bed and breakfast inns, Ashland Food Cooperative and Mountain Meadows retirement community.

Yard trimmings and the commercial food scraps are used to make Oakleaf Compost, which is sold at the Valley View Transfer Station at 3000 Valley View Road outside Ashland. A 60-pound bag of the compost costs $4.

Ashland Sanitary and Recycling Waste Reduction Educator Risa Buck said it's still too early to tell what new services the company could provide now that it's owned by Recology.

But Buck said she does think that many restaurants would like to be able to compost more material. Many homeowners may also be interested in a composting service with curbside pick-up, she said.

Steve DiFabion, the new general manager at Ashland Sanitary and Recycling, said composting programs that can handle meat scraps and other material are much more difficult and expensive than the type of "clean green" composting program here that takes pre-consumer food material and yard trimmings.

DiFabion said a facility to handle diverse compostable material would cost about $6 million to $6.5 million. He's not aware of anyone in Oregon who has a permit to build such a facility, although one company believes it's close to getting a conditional permit, DiFabion said.

If such a facility were built, possibly in northern Oregon, he said Recology would have to figure out the costs of transporting material to the site.

Building a facility would likely cause concerns among neighbors about odors and pests, he said.

DiFabion recently began working for Recology after previously working for Allied Waste in the Seattle area. Western Washington has one facility that can handle a large range of compostable material, he said.

The Seattle area has a very active food waste program that can take material such as bones. It serves residents as well as businesses, he said.

"There's a huge demand. It's rapidly approaching the point where there is more material than processing capacity," DiFabion said. "It's not unusual to have only one or two sites in a state."

Although Ashland Sanitary and Recycling doesn't offer residential food scrap pick-up, it does frequently hold free composting classes on Saturdays at its recycling center on Water Street near Van Ness Avenue. Call 482-1471 for information.

North Mountain Park will have a worm composting class from 7 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday. The cost is $5. Dress warmly. Call 488-6606 for more information.

North Mountain Park Stewardship Coordinator Linda Chesney said she believes there is demand out there for a residential food scrap and composting program. The park has on-site compost bins to take vegetation trimmings and food scraps, but only from the park itself.

People sometimes call park staff to ask if they can put their food scraps in the compost bins, Chesney said.

"We don't have the capacity to take other people's waste," she said.

If there are any changes to Ashland Sanitary and Recycling services, allowing people to put glass into their regular recycling container would likely come before an expanded composting program, DeFabion said.

Customers get a large rolling plastic garbage can with a blue lid for recyclable material like paper, cardboard, plastic and metal. Glass and used motor oil go in a smaller blue bin.

DeFabion said Ashland Sanitary and Recycling could consider sending recyclables to a different facility equipped with screens and sieves that could separate glass from other material.

"In northern California, Recology has a center that accepts co-mingled everything. That's a possibility, depending on distance and the cost of transporting the material. That's very, very preliminary to talk about that," DeFabion said.

As for having San Francisco-style mandatory composting here, no city of Ashland official has proposed any law to that effect.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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