Green Waste Containerization Benefit: Food Scrap Collection

This piece was published on the The People’s Vanguard of Davis.

According to the long range calendar, this Tuesday the Davis City Council was set to discuss the potential implementation of a containerized green waste collection program.

The 2013 Davis Integrated Waste Management Plan, a document compiled by city staff with input from the Davis Natural Resource Commission,  list the pro’s and con’s of switching from a  loose-in-the-street-yard material to a green waste containerization program. Some of which include the following:


  • Limited material collected each week
  • Potential for lost yard material tonnage if reminder material is placed in the trash
  • Potential for increased contamination of yard material
  • Complaints from residents with large/established trees
  • Residents will have 3 carts to store, businesses will have four


  • Cleaner pick-up of yard materials leading to a reduction in the necessity for weekly street sweeping.
  • Increased bike safety
  • Improved storm water quality
  • Reduction of organic matter in the waste treatment plant
  • Ability to collect food scraps and, soiled paper, and other non-recyclable organic material from all customers

The piece will focus on the final pro listed:  The ability to collect food scraps and, soiled paper, and other non-recyclable organic material from all customers

In my article A Davis Families Attempts at Zero Waste, I noted:

Composting presents a huge challenge for us, mostly because the amount of food scraps generated by my family is more then we are able to effectively compost. Plus, I never seem to be able to get the ratio of wet to dry materials correct, or achieve the optimal temperate for the process to work correctly.

Considering the amount of feedback I got on this comment it seems that many people in Davis face a similar dilemma.  After reading the article numerous people mentioned to me that they wanted to implement a backyard composting system, and in fact had tried but were unsuccessful for various reasons.

Some complained of odors, some that their piles attracted maggots, flies, and rodents, and some like me, had a hard time getting the ratio of wet to dry materials correct, and could not find the time to keep up with the necessary maintenance required to achieve  a successful composting pile.  They were excited to learn that the city was contemplating a program that would allow them to divert their food scraps from their garbage.

Allowing for residential collection of food scrap collection has multiple advantages.

They city of Davis has a goal, to divert 75% of it’s solid waste from landfills by 2020. It is estimated that food scraps comprise 25.4% of the total residential waste stream in Davis . A composting program would allow the diversion of this waste from the landfill to a composting facility.  Currently all yard waste collected by DWR, and food scraps collected as part of the city’s commercial food scrap collection pilot program, are brought to a composting facility in Zamora run by Northern Recycling Compost.

Besides helping the city reach it’s solid waste management goal diverting food waste from landfills has significant environmental impacts, most notably it’s effect on green house gas emissions. When food waste is disposed in a landfill it quickly rots and becomes a significant source of methane-a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. According to a CalRecycle report landfills are the second largest anthropogenic source of methane in California.

Yolo County Landfill does have a methane capturing system, but these systems have their limitations.  Food waste decomposes rapidly and can often start generating methane within days or weeks.

Efficient methane collection at a landfill cannot take place until an area (a cell) is closed and capped (covered with an impermeable membrane). Infact a CalRecycle published paper assumes landfill gas collection efficiencies of 0% for the first two years after waste placement, 50% the third year, 70% for year 4, and only 80% thereafter (CalRecycle, 2012).

Not only does composting  reduce the amount of waste that needs to be disposed of,  it converts this waste into a product that has many useful purposes.

For example benefits to farmers who use compost include: Increased soil water holding capacity and reduced runoff, beneficial micro-organisms to improve soil health,  addition of organic matter and carbon sequestration, and improved soil.

Compost also provides low levels of all primary, secondary and micronutrients, many of which become depleted from agricultural lands over time and may not be replenished with conventional fertilizers.

Collection of residential food scraps and compostable materials, so these materials can be diverted from the landfill, and instead be converted to a composting material is beneficial in many ways, and I urge our council, and community members, to take these benefits into consideration when contemplating the pro’s and con’s of a green waste containerization collection program.

About Michelle Millet

Michelle is a 25-year resident of Davis. She currently serves as the Vice-Chair of the Natural Resource Commission and sits on the Executive Boards of the Explorit Science Center and Davis Bicycles! Michelle writes periodic columns for the Davis Enterprise and maintains a blog about her family's efforts to live a zero-waste lifestyle, and works as a part time substitute teacher. Michelle and her husband Mitch live in South Davis with their 11-year old daughter Emi, their 9-year old son Drew, plus their 2 dogs, and 6 chickens.

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