San Carlos gears up for curbside food composting

San Carlos resident Pat Potter couldn’t stand the thought of throwing her watermelon rinds and coffee grains into the trash.

“We recycle our bottles and cans, why can’t we compost our food?” said Potter, a member of the San Carlos Green community group. “There are so many things that can have another life rather than just be buried.”

Potter has a food-scrap recycling passion for a reason. The electronics recycling professional said composting food keeps it out of landfills, where she says it produces especially hazardous greenhouse gases. The recycled product is returned as soil and products for the local agriculture community.

And despite San Carlos’ $3 million in cuts during the last three years and city officials’ claims that it is in a fiscal emergency, Potter’s green group and others convinced lawmakers to make San Carlos the first city in San Mateo County to offer special curbside recycling for food. Residents will pay for the $1 million program through a 12 percent garbage-rate increase, amounting to an additional $63.84 per household total during the next two years.

Beginning in January 2011, the 12 cities from Burlingame to the county’s southern border that make up the South Bayside Waste Management Authority figure their residents will also have food-scrap recycling as part of the agency’s new waste contract.

San Carlos could not wait another two years, however, and approved the program, along with moving from bi-weekly to weekly recycling pickup. Pickups can begin within 90 days.

In addition to San Carlos Green, residents who have moved from other cities with food-scrap service such as San Francisco and Oakland also lobbied for the service, said Assistant City Manager Brian Moura.

Vice Mayor Bob Grassilli, who voted against the proposal, said it would make more sense to wait until cities pick all their new services before January 2011 instead of jump-starting individual programs. The cost for residents was also an issue, he said.

“You say it’s only a dollar here, a dollar there,” Grassilli said. “We’re all struggling with a lot of this stuff.”

Residents will be given a gallon-or-so-size pail that can be placed next to a garbage can or anywhere else they think is convenient, said Cliff Feldman, the SBWMA’s recycling programs manager.

When residents take out their trash, they should throw the food-filled pail into their green waste bin along with all their other yard trimmings, Feldman said. The food and scraps are later composted together, he said.

mrosenberg@sfexaminer.com

By the numbers

San Carlos’ food-recycling program

  • $938,919: Annual cost for city
  • 12.3 percent: Rate increase for services
  • $2.66: Extra monthly cost per household
  • 8,390: Households affected
  • 12: Peninsula cities that could begin service in 2011
  • $3 million: City cuts made during the last three years

Source: City of San Carlos

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