Diverting food from the landfill

ASPEN – A program called “Scraps,” which has a high-minded goal of saving money and the environment, got a public push in Aspen this week. It all begins in the kitchen.

Cathy Hall, who is solid-waste manager for Pitkin County, wants to divert a larger share of the 17,000 tons of organic material, much of it food, that currently goes into the Pitkin County Landfill.

As measured by weight, food represents 40 percent of landfill waste nationally, according to estimates of the Environmental Protection Agency. That squares with a 2009 study in Pitkin County. The study concluded that 30 percent of residential waste and 55 to 60 percent of restaurant waste, by weight, was from food.

This matters immensely in Aspen because the local landfill has capacity for another 20 years; 30 if an expansion is approved. After that, it’s heave-ho to a more distant landfill, likely an hour or more away, with increased transportation costs and the pollution that comes with it.

“Once this landfill is done, there won’t be another landfill in Pitkin County,” says Hall. “The food industry is the low-hanging fruit for waste diversions.”

Hall, who says that she “loves talking trash,” explains that rotting food in the oxygen-starved environment of a landfill creates methane. By one estimate, it has 23 times the heat-trapping ability of carbon dioxide.

However, methane can be harvested, as it is at several hundred landfills around the country. Some, burn it to produce electricity.

Jeremy O’Brien, director of applied research at the Solid Waste Association of North America, says the economics of methane capture have become more difficult. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have yielded a glut of low-priced natural gas for power plants, meaning utilities must be wiling to pay a premium for electricity created by burning landfill methane, he says.

Increasingly, he says, methane is instead captured to use as fuel for powering trash trucks.

But even the best methane-capture projects allow 20 percent of the landfill gas to escape, says Hall. Better yet is keeping the food from becoming methane, by composting it. Letting food rot in the oxygen-rich environment of a composting operation results only in carbon dioxide. Plus, composting produces a valuable product, rich with nutrients, that can be used for landscaping or, to make it full circle, gardens and farms.

Aspen has been pushing the idea for several years. The city has distributed an estimated 200 plastic buckets to residents which can be placed under sinks or in kitchen corners. Four of the eight companies hauling waste from Aspen offer compost pick up for $4 to $4.50 per week per residence.

Several large-scale producers, such as Clark’s Market, the Sky Hotel and food operations operated by the Aspen Skiing Co., have been participating in the composting program for several years. Beyond them, only 1.7 percent of all compostable materials from Aspen trash was diverted last year, says Liz O’Connell, the city’s waste reduction and environmental health specialist.

O’Connell says the city has worked with restaurants and other large-volume producers to ramp up the program. Chefs invariably support the effort. They are “very much in touch with the cycle of producing and disposing of foods,” she says.

The resistance comes from facilities manager and owners, who fret about added cost and space constraints. To ease acceptance, Pitkin County has now bought 10 bear-proof composters to loan to businesses and will buy more as needed. The thinking is that diverting waste now will save the county money in the long run.

Nationally, more cities and states have required food diversions. Most have been large cities or heavily populated states along the East and West coasts where space for landfills tends to be more limited.

In Seattle beginning in January, if food constitutes more than 10 percent of a resident’s trash, the customer may get a $1 fine attached to the monthly trash bill. The City Council adopted the fines because Seattle’s recycling rate, now at 56 percent, has bogged down. The city had hoped to achieve 60 percent by 2015, reports the Seattle Times.

In October, Massachusetts began requiring 1,700 institutions – grocery stores, schools, hospitals and food producers – who generate more than a ton of food waste a week to instead ship the waste to a composting facility.

NPR notes that Vermont and Connecticut have similar bans, but they only apply to facilities that produce two tons a week and are located within 20 miles of a food-waste recycling facility.

San Francisco made food diversion mandatory in 2009.

The EPA, in its Landfill Methane Outreach Program, reports that municipal sold waste landfills are responsible for 18.2 percent of human-related methane emissions in the United States.

Local out, Starbucks in at Park City

PARK CITY, Utah – When Vail Resorts bought Park City Mountain Resort a few months back, company representatives said they intended to honor Park City’s authenticity and small-town atmosphere.

When it comes to coffee, however, it’s big business. The company has informed a local coffee vendor that had been delivering the daily perc to the ski hill for several years that his 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of beans won’t be needed. Instead, Vail will do business with its official partner, Starbucks.

“I’m kind of bummed out. I know business is business,” coffee vendor Robert Hibl told The Park Record.

The newspaper, in an editorial, declared that Park City’s toughest challenge  will be to balance two realities. Beginning next year, when Park City Mountain Resort and the Canyons are linked with a chairlift, it will boast being home to the “biggest ski area in the country.” Yet, can it maintain the small-town character?

That’s not entirely a new challenge for Park City. It has gone from being a mining town to a ski town, and then, when it hosted the Olympics, from being a mid-sized mountain resort to joining the big leagues with Aspen, Breckenridge, Vail, Whistler and Jackson Hole.

Along the way, locals have pushed back at corporate branding efforts. A pizza chain was refused a red roof. A burger joint had to tame its golden arches. And, notes The Record, a local activist tried to block construction of a big-box retailer by chaining himself to a bulldozer.

The Record, itself part of a corporate chain that includes the Salt Lake Tribune and Denver Post, said it understands Vail’s interests in striking marketing partnerships and achieving economies of scale.

“We understand,” added the paper. “But for those of us who want to ensure that our mountain town has its own flavor, one cup of coffee for all is a real concern.”

The end of Olympic venue subsidies?

WHISTLER, B.C. – Whistler has tons of things that most ski towns don’t have by virtue of having hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics. The challenge is how to curb or even end the subsidies for venues such as the bobsled, luge and skeleton tracks.

Occupancy at the Whistler Athletes’ Centre, which hosted athletes and still seeks to cater to high-performance and development groups, is at 37 percent. Roger Sloane, chief executive of Whistler Sport Legacies, tells Pique that he’d like to boost that to 65 percent.

A shaky start to last winter dented revenues for the Whistler Olympic Park, which brought in $1.3 million this year and cost $2.3 million to run. The Sliding Centre cost $2.4 million to operate and brought in $1.1 million in revenues.

These losses were expected, says Sloane, and were anticipated by British Columbia’s creation of a $110 million trust fund. The trust fund this year gave the local operating group $1.3 million. He says the local group hopes to augment income by renting facilities more frequently to groups such as the Tough Mudder, or to corporations for meetings.

Mashed spuds on Wolf Creek Pass

PAGOSA SPRINGS – When a truck carrying groceries overturns on Wolf Creek Pass, what do you call the load?

Mashed, in the case of a truck that was ferrying 132,000 potatoes down the steep, west side of the pass. The Pagosa Sun explains that the driver overheated the brakes, which became useless. The truck rolled at 70 mph.

– Allen Best

For more mountain town news, go to www.mountaintownnews.net

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows