The Co-op introduced new waste bins at each store in April. They are custom made by Toby Massey, former Eureka store manager, with 90 percent locally salvaged steel and lumber. The colorful countertops are made with concrete and recycled glass from Fire & Light in Arcata, and the bins have slots for trash, recycling, and something new for members and shoppers – compost.
Not only does this align with the Co-op’s Strategic Plan goal of “Promoting Environmental Responsibility,” but also with the state of California’s mandate that requires 75 percent of all organic waste (food waste, green waste, landscape and pruning waste, and food-soiled paper that is mixed in with food waste) be recovered or recycled by the year 2025. A key avenue to meet this mandate will be to utilize organic waste through composting, anaerobic digestion, or similar mechanisms.
Compostable materials, or organic waste, make up about a third of the local solid waste stream in Humboldt County. That adds up to about 21,000 tons per year. When this organic material decomposes in landfills, it produces uncontrolled methane emissions, a powerful greenhouse gas, as well as leachate, an acidic liquid that poses a long-term threat to nearby surface waters. When this same material is recovered before it becomes “waste” it can be used instead to increase local food security, create jobs, as well as produce valuable soil amendments and renewable fuels.
Although the Co-op is excited to see its members and shoppers already participating in sorting their scraps, it is important to clarify that separating waste in Humboldt County is not as simple as the bins imply. We currently have no large-scale industrial composting facility in our area, and the food digester proposed several years ago has yet to make if off the ground. While the Co-op’s in-house kitchen scraps go to The Local Worm Guy as well as local pig farms, utilizing other compostable materials—compostable to-go ware, napkins, chopsticks—is currently more difficult.
In lieu of community-scale organic waste processing facilities, the Co-op hopes to send its post-consumer compostable materials (i.e., materials that are sorted into those new bins) to The Local Worm Guy. However it should be noted that The Local Worm Guy does not yet have the capacity to serve the needs of the entire community. To address this constraint, the Co-op will seek to support the development of new facilities with processing equipment that can accept larger volumes of mixed organic waste, and remove the ever-present contamination (i.e., plastics, metals, glass) to ensure the return of nutrients back into our local soils.
As a leader in sustainable action, the Co-op is ready to launch a “waste revolution” and take the next steps in fostering a conversation about the options for recycling organic waste in our community. Additionally, the Co-op is working with community partners like Zero Waste Humboldt to lay a foundation for our community to get into the habit of properly sorting the compostable materials out of the waste stream in preparation for sending them to the (future) facilities that will process this resource locally.
I am proud to be part of a community that takes the well-being of our planet seriously, and I am excited to continue to work with the Co-op to provide shoppers with new opportunities to reduce waste while procuring food. For more information about local recycling and composting challenges, or how to join North Coast Co-op’s Waste Revolution, please visit Join the Waste Revolution! Little shifts in how we shop and live can make a big difference!
Juliette Bohn will be presenting a free lecture, “Digester Opportunities in Humboldt County,” on Sunday, July 16 from 4-5pm at the Freshwater Community Hall on Grange Road as part of the 2017 Humboldt Permaculture Guild Summer Lecture Series. Seats are available at a first come, first served basis.