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Palo Alto poised to embark on trash experiment

Original post made on Dec 14, 2012

Those black carts filled with trash may soon disappear from the curbside of one Palo Alto neighborhood as part of the city's proposed experiment with food scraps and other organic waste.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, December 14, 2012, 9:08 AM

Comments (24)

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Posted by I want this program!
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 14, 2012 at 10:49 am

I sure hope they pick Ventura, but I know it won't happen. We have clear neighborhood boundaries, but we lack a strong "outreach presence". But why would an outreach presence be required? If the program is destined to work, it should work without outreach, so in my mind, that makes our neighborhood an excellent candidate. If the pilot consisted of Ventura and Barron Park (which has stronger outreach), then at least you'd be able to compare the relative success of the program with a no outreach community and a high outreach community.


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Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 14, 2012 at 11:15 am

I guess we, South of Midtown, won't get it either...I don't even know if we have clear boundaries, let alone a good neighborhood association or strong outreach presence!
Midtown would be good. They have a VERY strong neighborhood association AND a strong outreach presence. They were just in the paper for being the Midtown Elves (yesterday?). Midtown is a Great Neighborhood period!


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2012 at 11:25 am

If they start messing around with pick up less than once a week in my neighborhood, I will be very unhappy. I have so little food waste that I suppose I will just dump everything into the blue bin, the rest will go down the garbage disposal like I presently do, with the exception of corn husks and banana peels which I might have to stop buying.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 14, 2012 at 11:32 am

Simple question. Would this proposed program reduce or increase our refuse rates?


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Posted by Annette Puskarich
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 14, 2012 at 11:54 am

Link to Staff report. Web Link


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Posted by Anne d'anecdote
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Quit whining, you guys, they'll pick who they pick for the experiment, and if it is successful, you'll all get it in the end anyway.


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Posted by Calvin Amari
a resident of Meadow Park
on Dec 14, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Hmm... garbage and compost together. How do they stop the can from smelling?


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 14, 2012 at 3:44 pm

I'm confused reading this:
Residential waste would continue to get collected weekly and shipped to the regional Sunnyvale Material Recovery and Transfer (SMaRT) Station for sorting. The contents of the green carts would proceed to the Z-Best Composting Facility in Gilroy, where food scraps and yard trimmings would be composted in separate units, producing different types of compost.

The blue bins would include recyclable items and garbage that cannot be recycled, including dental floss, hygiene products and pet waste. The landfill-bound waste would be separated from the recyclables at the GreenWaste facility in San Jose.

First it says the residential waste blue cans will be "sorted" at SMaRT in Sunnyvale; and then in the second paragraph, it says the blue bin items will be "separated" at GreenWaste in San Jose.

What's the difference between sorting in Sunnyvale nd separating in San Jose?


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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2012 at 4:47 pm

I'm not sure I like this. I really don't mind sorting my own trash, and I think most residents of Palo Alto feel the same, it's why we've diverted so much to recycling.

I think the problem I have with single-stream is that who is doing the sorting? Human beings who are going to be exposed to a steady stream of pet waste, wipes people used to clean their toilets, and other unmentionables, just to save people sorting their trash at the pick-up end? I guess I don't understand the logistics enough to understand why this is better. I am concerned about the human beings involved in the sorting work. Can someone please explain this better?


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Posted by jm
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 14, 2012 at 4:59 pm

I don't have room in my kitchen for a organic waste bin, so I will probably just do as I do now except it will all go in the blue bin.


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Posted by JerryL
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 14, 2012 at 5:42 pm

There is a requirement (assumption? of an awful lot of (careful) bagging
going on in this plan. I don't know about you but we don't always bag
ALL our garbage in the black cart. We sometimes bag recyclables or leave them in (currently paper) grocery store bags (soon to be banned).

Although touted as simpler for residents, it looks like additional burdens to me. Also, what are all these bags for "bagging" going to be made of? If plastic, odors may be less but more plastic bags in the landfills.

Then we get to the continuing mantra of "zero waste". Zero does not equal 0, as even the "zero waste" staff admitted at one public meeting. So I continue to be galled by calling it that. We will never get to zero so why name it that or why set an unattainable goal?


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Posted by Anne d'anecdote
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2012 at 6:49 pm

What it boils down to is: it will be simpler for the PA resident, but more labor intense and expensive at the other end, thus resulting in higher rates for PA residents, like it or not, because they think we all have endless gobs of money.


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Posted by Ann Onymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2012 at 8:04 pm

There is no such thing as "Zero Waste". There will always be certain things that must be discarded which are neither recyclable nor compostable.

As for the "two bin" idea:

Why should pet waste, soiled disposable diapers, feminine hygiene products, medical waste, bloody bandages, broken glass, used razors and such suddenly be allowed to contaminate the recyclables? Who is going to have to sort the one from the other, and will there be health risks for those involved (how can there not be)?

Composting meat, dairy products, and (if allowed) pet waste from omnivorous or carnivorous pets is trickier than plant waste, hence the desire to compost them differently. Another sorting nightmare, if these are initially all tossed into the same bin.

Is pet waste not acceptable for the compost bin, but rotten meat products are? In which bin goes the dead squirrel (how is this different from supermarket chicken gone bad), or the random dead rat that may or may not have been killed by some idiot putting out extremely toxic rat poison?

It's a great idea in theory to compost household food scraps (we have a compost pile for that purpose), but why not leave a working system alone and provide a small bin for collecting these?

This "new concept" looks to me like an extreme-effort-for-little-gain scenario, and inevitable to raise our garbage rates yet again to pay for the extra processing. It might not be obvious to those in the City Council, but despite the past several years of lightning gentrification, there are still many Palo Altans who have lived in this town a long time and are very definitely not millionaires.

I hope this wacky "experiment" doesn't take place in my part of town.


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Posted by Haz
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 14, 2012 at 8:39 pm

These could all be dropped off at Saturday's monthly hazardous waste day:

"pet waste, soiled disposable diapers, feminine hygiene products, medical waste, bloody bandages, broken glass, used razors and such ...? "


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Posted by Ann Onymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Very funny, Haz. NOBODY saves any of the above for monthly drop-off. Hazardous Waste is defined as:

Pesticides
Mercury wastes (thermometers, thermostats, switches)
Latex & Oil based paints
Medications (No controlled substances)
Gasoline, paint thinner or other fuels and solvents (in non-returnable container)
Fluorescent light bulbs, tubes and ballasts
Asbestos (wetted and double bagged - 2 bags maximum)
Road flares
Propane tanks (tanks used for BBQ's and camp stoves)
Motor Oil (in non-returnable container)
Antifreeze (in non-returnable container)
Auto Batteries
Household Batteries (e.g., AAA, AA, C, D, 9-volt, hearing aid, camera)
Cooking Oil and Grease (in non-returnable container)
Cleaners, bleach, pool chemicals
Household injection needles (must be in rigid container with a sealed lid)

Realistically: No one is going to save each month's worth of soiled diapers (and bandaids, and used menstrual pads, and scooped baggies of cat/dog poo, those broken drinking glasses, dulled box-cutter blades [razors] etc.) and cart them off to Hazardous Waste disposal. These sort of items typically go into weekly trash.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 14, 2012 at 9:55 pm

If this wasn't so comical it would be funny!

The zero waste fanatics seem to have a cult-like hold on our our current city council leadership.

The subrosa name for these fanatics is nine-grain nazis (said in jest). It is amusing and amazing how otherwise intelligent people can buy into this Big Fix.


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Posted by Paula
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 15, 2012 at 8:12 am

Normally meat and bones are not added into the compost mix. That's what I learned in the City of Palo Alto composting class. But if meat is put in, along with crab shells and fish, that can is going to stink to high heaven. Especially in warm/hot months. I think the city should have some consideration for the quality of life here. There's a reason garage dumps are located away from residential areas. I pay high property taxes and high garbage collection fees, and I do not want my neighborhood or my yard to smell like a garbage dump.


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Posted by freeplay
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 15, 2012 at 8:58 am

Paula, How far you live from the city hall??? This is just another free play by the City "zero waste" game. And it costs only 12K this time


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Posted by Not Smelly
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 15, 2012 at 7:23 pm

I think it is a great idea re: compost.
It does have a lid, so shouldn't be smelly.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 15, 2012 at 9:55 pm

My conclusion: this is the wrong thing to do. It will be a mess and smelly. Also, we DO have "trash" - it is unavoidable. Mixing things up sounds like contamination and yuck.
Yes, every possible means to recycle and re-use is important. I also feel we pay a lot for Palo Alto city services and it is ridiculous to require us (I pray it is NOT our neighborhood in this "trial")to use this new system, which is unworkable. I think people will end up taking trash to work or dumping it, etc.
Everyone' living circumstances are not identical (some of us eat more at home, etc., etc.) and to ASSUME this scheme would be workable for ALL of us is incorrect. I think the article states no other city (around here at least) is doing this, so why do we have to burdened with this bad idea?


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 15, 2012 at 9:59 pm

I have some prior experience with composting (elsewhere, in a more suitable more rural area with space) and if you think you can keep a small container in your kitchen for a week or two weeks, I seriously doubt it - it will be horribly slimy and a problem for when they wish to mix it into the real compost pile later out in the hinterlands.In my experience, people who successfully compost have a MIX, with dry and wet items, that theyt put outside on a frequent basis, they do a lot of mixing, some add the earthworms, but to have a pile of slimy wet banana peels and similar rotting in a pail will be yucky and smelly.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 15, 2012 at 11:17 pm



So if the they are still picking up weekly, just having residents sort in to two cans, instead of three... how is this "the optimal way to reduce collection frequency and also help the city achieve our goals of zero waste and reducing gas emissions."

I don't get it. How does this reduce collection frequency? HOw does it help the city achieve zero waste? all the same stuff, in two garbage cans instead of three? Still all picked up weekly? What' exactly are they talking about doing? entirely unclear about what they're doing here. (But undoubtedly it "stinks", knowing the city counsel.)


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Posted by Kristen
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 16, 2012 at 11:05 am

If you've ever been to the recycling center (I have on a couple of school field trips), you see that they have to sort all the recycling anyway, since people don't follow instructions and there is a lot of trash in the recycling. And they sort the paper from the glass and metal, anyway. So this makes a ton of sense to me. Let's hope people can learn not to put plastic in the compost bin...


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Posted by jardins
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm

This new policy will lead to (1) increased public health problems--especially for the sorters at the MRFs; (2) deteriorating quality of neighborhoods, especially in the summer months.

Yet again, the existing system ain't broke, so why seek to fix it???


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