Tale of two landfills - Page 4

With a pair of giant corporations vying for control of San Francisco's trash, will our zero waste dreams ever become a reality?

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San Francisco has trucked its trash to the Altamont landfill since 1987
PHOTO BY LUKE THOMAS

Creps believes the landfill should be for the use of local residents only. "There's a lot of development going on around here and the population is going to grow," she said. "But at this rate, this landfill will be used up before Yuba and the surrounding counties can use it. And that's not fair. They think they can get a foothold in places off the beaten path."

Yet not everyone in Yuba County hates San Francisco's Ostrom Road plan. On June 7, the Yuba-Sutter Economic Development Corporation backed Recology's plan to build a rail spur to cover the 100 yards from the Union Pacific line to the landfill site.

EDC's Brynda Stranix said the garbage deal is still subject to approval by San Francisco officials, but will bring needed money to the county. "The landfill is already permitted to take up to 3,000 tons of garbage a day and it's taking in about 800 tons a day now," Stranix said.

If the deal goes through, it would triple the current volume at the landfill, entitling Yuba County to $22 million in host fees over 10 years.

Recology's Phil Graham clarified that Ostrom Road is considered a regional landfill, one that has already grown to 100 feet above sea level and is permitted to rise another 165 feet into the air. "So even with the waste stream from San Francisco," he said, "we'll still be operating well under the tonnage limits."

"The world has changed. Federal regulations come in, and landfill operations change," Recology's Alberti said as we toured the site. "And there really are no longer any local landfills. This one is already operating, accepting regional waste."

He claimed that Livermore residents had similar concerns to those now expressed in Yuba County when San Francisco's waste started going to Altamont. Livermore and Sierra Club brought a lawsuit around plans to expand the dump, a suit that forced WM to create an $10 million open space fund.

Alberti said he understands that people like Creps are concerned. "But we are not seeking an expansion. The only thing we are asking for is a rail track.

"From our point of view it's simple," he continued. "We have the facility; Ostrom Road is close to rail; and it's not open to the public. So it's a tightly contained working area."

Graham, the facility's manager, also dismissed concerns that the landfill might harm the groundwater or the health of the local environment. "A lot of people don't know how highly regulated we are," he said. "That's why we are having public meetings. Our compass is out in the community. These are people we work and live with."

Alberti said YUGAG and other opponents of the landfill aren't numerous. "If we draw the circle wider to the two-county area, how many people even know a landfill is operating here?"

Graham takes that as a testament to how well the facility is operated. "I consider that a compliment. Obviously, we weren't causing any problems."

 

TRASH MONOPOLY

Those who run both landfills say they recognize that their industry's heyday is over, and that the future will bring a more complicated system that sends steadily less trash to the landfills.

"Eventually we will be all out of business," Alberti predicted. "One reason we changed our name was knowing that landfills are not sustainable. And that's a significant difference. Waste Management is the largest landfill owner in the world. Recology is a recycling company that owns a few landfills and, for that reason, does innovative things like the food scraps program."

But the company with the new green name has traditionally been a powerhouse in San Francisco's trash industry, becoming a well-entrenched monopoly after buying out two local competitors — Sunset Scavenger and Golden Gate Disposal and Recycling — a triad that has long held exclusive rights over the city's waste.

Comments

"Why does San Francisco produce so much trash?" This, or something like it, was posed on the cover of the Guardian.

I read the whole article, but you never answered that question. Why does San Francisco produce so much trash? Is it because of consumers or businesses?

Your pie chart even broke up the different kinds of waste--compost, recyclable, landfill. It didn't mention, though, whether that trash is actually being composted, recycled, or put into landfills.

Perhaps you can write an article that actually addresses the role of its readers.

Posted by Jenna on Jun. 17, 2010 @ 8:11 am

Thanks for the feedback about the headline on the cover and its connection to the story inside the paper.

As the author of the article, I can tell you that my response to the city's plans--after visiting both landfills--was to question how sending our trash hundreds and hundreds of miles away to either location helps San Francisco residents develop an awareness of the towering amounts of trash that this city generates each day.

Without that awareness it's going to be hard, me thinks, to achieve zero waste by 2020.

Now, clearly no one is going to back building a landfill in Golden Gate Park (at least not at this point in time). But imagine if there was a moratorium on sending trash into other communities backyards--and as a result, there was a growing brown mound next to Stow Lake. Imagine how fast our habits would change, and how much harder we would work to pass legislation to make manufacturers take responsibility for excessive packing and non-recyclable products.

In the meantime, I have been asking if the city has a sustainability equation that it can share with its residents that addresses the issue of trash transportation and disposal.
(and so far, I have not got a clear answer to my question.)

For instance, if trains are used to transport our trash, what is that worth in the sustainability equation?
And how far can these trains travel before any perceived benefit, in terms of reduced greenhouse gas emissions, is lost?
Likewise, If trucks are used that use biogas, what is that worth? And how far can these trucks drive before any perceived benefit is lost?
And what about transporting our trash all the way by rail?
And how about using barges to get it to the East Bay?

Likewise, I have questions around the organics recycling program:
Where are these organics taken? And do we dry them ahead of transportation, so they weigh less, or do we carry them fresh? And how far can we transport them, before any benefit in reduced greenhouse gas emissions is lost?

Those questions also bring me back to my point about local processing of our waste: to the extent we handle stuff in our city, we truly reduce emissions and create green jobs.

And to the extent our landfill is local, we also have greater control of the overall waste disposal picture: how will it help the planet if we remove our organics, but then dispose of our waste in landfills where the surrounding municipalities don't use a three-bin system and/or don't have an aggressive organics recycling program?

So, those are some of the issues I tried to explore.
That said, it sounds like an article on who throws away what would be useful--and of interest to our readers, including you. So, thanks, once again, for the feedback,

Posted by sarah on Jun. 17, 2010 @ 4:10 pm

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