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San Diego Opens Door To Small-Scale Community Composting

February 12, 2018 10:15 a.m.

Waste hauling is tightly regulated in San Diego, and just under two dozen companies have permits to collect all the waste thrown out by residents and businesses. Those haulers are all subsidiaries of three parent companies — EDCO, Republic Services and Waste Management of San Diego.

Related Story: San Diego Opens Door To Small-Scale Community Composting


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>>> San Diego is on a long-term plan to reach zero waste. By 2020, 75% of the trash residence and businesses throw out is supposed to be kept out of the landfill, either recycled or reused in some way. The city has a way to go before reaching that goal. Last month, the City Council gave a boost to the small but growing market of community composting. "Mid-Day" has the -- KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen has the story.
>> Reporter: It is just past 9:00 a.m. and this team of composters is busy getting their hands dirty. They are shoveling what brown mulch into a been on a small farm at city Heights. The compost match alternates between layers of mulch and kitchen scratch -- scraps. The compost raises the mixture to upwards of 140 degrees. Steam rises from the piles as this in turn moves the compost batch into a new holding been.
>> This particular batch, we are troubleshooting. This did not spike to the temperature we wanted it to which is a normal temperature.
>> Look at all of that.
>> She uncovers a network of tiny fungal threads. They accelerate the breakdown process.
>> Fungal colonies are very delicate. The only come about at certain temperatures. The sign that it is there in the compost is a healthy sign.
>> This is the executive director of the nonprofit that started this composting program called, food to soil. The program trains interns using vegetative scraps from a handful of downtown restaurants.
>> It consists of firefighters, journalists, former beauticians, engineers does people working in the biochemical industry. Because they want to connect with the soil at a deeper level.
>> Until recently, food to soil was operating in a legal gray area. Technically, they were transporting waste without a permit and avoiding city fees for waste collection. At the same time, they were helping the city's zero waste goals by keeping more organic material out of the landfill. Three weeks ago, the City Council voted to legalize food to soil and other community composting projects by opening them up to a special permitting process.
>> It is a huge door that has opened up because now we can do it legitimately and bring out these hubs.
>> One of the businesses that surprised -- supplies food to soil with food scraps is Achilles coffee. The owner Chad Bell moved here a few years ago from San Francisco where he says composting was easier and more mainstream. It is tougher here.
>> We were throwing out so many coffee groundsthat we had trouble getting it out to the trash. I started calling around and looking for a composter. It was more difficult then I thought. I thought I would have somebody to pick it up.
>> He pays food to soil a fee to pick up his coffee grounds and food scraps. It is the cost he has taken on voluntarily. But he says putting waste in the landfill carries a hood and cost to the environment.
>> Hopefully we just create more awareness and more restaurants in.
>> Back at the composting site, they took over the intern's latest batch. They say there is a demand for community skill composting that the city's big waste haulers can never fulfill and the city regulations should support that.
>> 50% of the population will be moving into urban areas. We are investing in smart growth. Smart growth is not smart enough if it does not look at the waste stream in a smart way.
>> She says that means working to recover value from the waste we throw out. Andrew Bolan, trim -- KPBS news.