New food waste collection system to debut next month in Encinitas

Encinitas welcoming sign
(Charlie Neuman)

Old pizza boxes, chicken bones, apple cores will soon be allowed in yard waste bins


Starting next month, Encinitas residents will be able to deposit food waste into their yard waste bins.

The resulting mix of banana peels, apple cores and leftover pizza slices, along with grass clippings and tree branches, will be collected by trash trucks and taken to a new anaerobic digestion plant in Escondido where they’ll be converted into natural gas and fertilizer.

The Encinitas City Council on Wednesday, May 12, approved various fee increases related to the new program, including a temporary fee for education materials and start-up supplies for residents as well as permanent garbage collection fee increases.

“I’m really excited that we’re at the point to adopt this and roll it out this summer,” Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze said.

Councilman Joe Mosca said he was glad that both the food waste and the yard waste items were being transformed into usable products, noting that the natural gas produced by the new digestion plant can be used to power the garbage trucks.

“I think this is brilliant,” he said.

When the new rates go into effect next month, Encinitas residents who use the standard 95-gallon trash cans will see their bills increase by $6.18 from $22.15 a month to $28.33. People who have the 35-gallon, “mini” cans will see their bills increase by $5.78 a month from $14.50 to $20.28.

Most people in Encinitas now pay for 95-gallon trash can pickup service, but more people may shift over to the 35-gallon cans once the new program starts and that will cut their monthly garbage bills, said Jim Ambroso, general manager of the city’s trash collection company EDCO.

“What we will see is that the trash container will have less and less in it,” he said, adding that he and his wife have found that they’re producing less than one bag a week of trash now that they’re sorting out their food waste.

Many cities are embarking on organic waste recycling programs in California due to state legislation that aims to reduce the amount that ends up in landfills. One law, Senate Bill 1383, calls for the state to reduce its disposal of organic waste from its 2014 levels by 75 percent by 2025.

The sheer volume of food that ends up in the trash is staggering — 1.3 million pounds of food waste a month from Encinitas alone, said Jessica Toth, the executive director of the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation.

Noting that she lives in Encinitas, Toth said she was quite happy to pay the higher garbage rate for the new composting service. However, the two other people who spoke to the council Wednesday, May 12, said they didn’t see a need for the new program.

Encinitas resident Michael George said he thought the size of the rate increase was “kind of crazy” given the national economic woes. He said he doesn’t throw away that much food and doesn’t think food waste is a huge trash problem.

The other person said she composted almost everything at her home and noted that a big trash item — pet waste — won’t be allowed in the yard waste bins. EDCO company officials confirmed this, saying that people typically collect dog poop in plastic bags and that poses processing problems for the new composting system, so pet waste won’t be permitted in the yard waste bins.

Items that will be allowed starting next month include all sorts of food scraps, ranging from banana peels to half-eaten hamburgers. Food-soiled paper products, ranging from tea bags to pizza boxes, also are permitted, as is the leaves, branches and grass clipping yard waste that’s already allowed.

To give residents a place to put their food waste before trash day, the city will be distributing special kitchen caddy storage containers later this month and paper bags to use with the containers, city employees said.

The new food waste recycling program will begin with residential trash customers. Commercial customers will be added in later this year, Ambroso said.

Councilwoman Joy Lyndes encouraged Ambroso to offer public tours of the new anaerobic digestion facility, saying “it’s way more interesting than you might think.”

— Barbara Henry is a freelancer writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune