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Reusing Organics: Promoting the Environment, the Economy and the Community of Oceanside

Case Story

Community:City of Oceanside

Population: 172,794 (2013)

Summary

Organic waste is the largest component of California’s waste stream and comprises a third of all landfill disposal. It is especially troublesome because as it decomposes in landfills, it creates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The City of Oceanside (City) in northern San Diego County recognized early on that traditional methods of green waste disposal such as open burning or landfilling are both inefficient and environmentally unsound. In an effort to develop a more environmentally and economically sustainable waste management approach the City partnered with Agri Service to develop an innovative public-private recycling program.

The El Corazon Compost Facility currently processes approximately 20 percent of the waste stream in the City of Oceanside. The compost facility is helping the City make progress towards meeting its Zero Waste goal and ultimately meet the “international zero standard of 90 percent.” According to the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council, Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them. This City effort is aligned with the State’s 75 percent diversion/recycling rate goal by 2020 as described in Assembly Bill 341. The public-private partnership model between Agri Service and the City demonstrates that what can be good for the planet, can also be good for people, the economy and community. 

Program Highlights

  • The El Corazon Compost Facility, managed by Agri Service on City owned land, accepts green waste from area residents and converts the material into compost, mulch, engineered soils and erosion control products used by landscapers, farmers, golf courses, public works departments, the construction industry and local residents.

  • The facility employs a manufacturing model, rather than a diversion model placing emphasis on value added products that are in demand to the local landscape and agricultural businesses.

  • The partnership agreement between Agri Service and the City, allows Oceanside residents to pick-up compost, ground cover and mulch at no cost.

Lessons Learned

  • Establishing public-private compost industry partnerships can yield high end products and community benefits.

  • The feedstock is procured through both City curbside recycling and local landscapers and self haul material. Importantly, the El Corazon Compost Facility is more than 40 miles from the nearest landfill and does not have to compete with landfills for alternative daily cover – material placed on a landfill at the end of each day to control odors, fires, blowing litter, vectors and scavenging. 

  • Creating a closed loop compost system in which green material is collected, processed and then used within the same geographic area results in a small footprint yielding the greatest benefit to not only to City residents, but to the region.

  • Increasing composting leads to less organic waste sent to landfills, and decreased water use and chemical fertilizers.

  • Composting significant amounts of green waste delays proposed regional landfill closure dates and helps the City meet state mandated diversion rates.

The Rest of the Story…

The idea of composting is not new.  Many backyard gardeners know that saving food scraps and yard clippings, composting them and putting them back into your garden makes the soil richer, increases the yield of plants, helps reduce watering needs and help fight pests.  But composting at a commercial scale is not yet widespread throughout California, even though it can be a profitable business.  Organic waste is the largest component of California’s waste stream and comprises a third of all landfill disposal. It is especially troublesome because as it decomposes in landfills, it creates methane, a greenhouse gas twenty-five times more potent than carbon dioxide.

In 1995, the City of Oceanside partnered with Agri Service, Inc. to develop an innovative public-private recycling program. The public-private project consisted of: 1) land used for the compost facility, once a mining site, was donated to the City in 1994 by a separate entity and 2) City residents could have finished compost for free. The City leases’ approximated 12 acres of City owned property to Agri Service. The City has a service agreement with the company to process curbside green material, which is collected through a separate contract with Waste Management.  Under the agreement all infrastructure, equipment, operating expenses and regulatory compliance are the responsibility of Agri Service. In addition, Agri Service pays rent, supplies the City with products used in parks and public works and manages a residential giveaway program that includes compost, mulch and compost tea. With the help of the public-private recycling program the City is able to stabilize and keep transportation waste disposal costs at a minimum. Curbside costs are kept low because material is being processed locally instead of being sent off to a distant landfill.

El Corazon Compost Facility helped the City meet the mandates of Assembly Bill 939 which required all cities in California to divert 50 percent of their waste stream from landfills by 2000.  In 2012, the city enacted a Zero Waste Plan aligned with Assembly Bill 341 which set the statewide goal of 75 percent recycling rate by 2020. Currently, the City is close to reaching its goal through the implementation of numerous waste reduction and recycling programs, including diverting organic waste from landfills. The El Corazon Compost Facility currently processes approximately 20 percent of the total waste stream in the City of Oceanside.

In 2013 Agri Service received a $1.3 million loan from CalRecycle to expand the amount of organic material it can divert from landfills from 49,976 tons to 77,800 tons per year. The loan was used to improve infrastructure by installing a state of the art aeration system to reduce odor, one the major reasons for siting issues in California. The infrastructure improvements have improved efficiency and product development, allowing Agri Service to increase its workforce from 18 to 22.

Since its inception, the compost facility has processed over 1.5 million tons of green waste into high quality soil amendments, mulch and potting mixes. Curbside green material accounts for about a third of the feedstock that arrives at the compost facility. Additional feedstock is added when local landscapers and residents bring their yard clippings to the compost facility and pay a tipping fee for disposal. This tipping fee ranges from free (for feedstocks that can be made into high value products) to $40 per ton, which is about 30 percent less than local landfill fees.  The compost facility staff processes the material to produce soil amendments, mulch products and engineered soils. These products are sold to homeowners, landscapers, farmers, golf courses and public works departments. In addition, Agri Service brokers material from other facilities to help build demand for locally produced organics. Oceanside residents have free access to the products because of an agreement Agri-Service has with the City. 

There are many City benefits to composting at a commercial scale and using the compost products, including but not limited to:

  • Extending the lifespan of existing landfills;
  • Reducing the ‘transfer’ piece of waste collection. In Oceanside’s case this reduces heavy truck traffic by up to 400,000 miles per year;
  • Improving water quality and reducing landscape water usage;
  • Reducing the need for the use of toxic pesticides;
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from organic materials being disposed in landfills;
  • Adding nutrients to the soil;
  • Saving residents money;
  • Creating jobs;
  • Helping to meet waste diversion targets set by the state, and in Oceanside, its own higher diversion goal; and
  • Encouraging civic involvement and healthy living through community outreach programs such as municipal workshops, gardening classes and vermicomposting education giveaways.

The public-private partnership model between Agri Service and the City demonstrates that what can be good for the planet, can also be good for people, the economy and community. 

Resources to Learn More

CalRecycle Grant Programs

CalRecycle grants low-interest loans through its Recycling Market Development Zone (RMDZ) program, which provides loans, technical assistant, and product marketing to businesses that divert materials from the waste stream. The RMDZ loans help California-based recycling businesses add jobs, create new facilities, expand existing operations and develop additional markets for recycled-content products.  In addition to the RMDZ loan program CalRecycle and other State agencies have funding and technical assistance resources for composting facilities and other types of recycling manufacturers.

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