Trash evolution

Local disposal company focuses on reusing and recycling

Recology Butte Colusa Counties is working to phase out conventional waste-disposal systems.

Recology Butte Colusa Counties is working to phase out conventional waste-disposal systems.

photo courtesy of recology

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Landfills will go the way of the dinosaurs if Recology Butte Colusa Counties succeeds in its plans eventually to divert most or all of the current Butte County waste stream toward renewable-energy production.

Formerly called Norcal Waste Systems of Butte County, the refuse-disposal service has announced intentions to strengthen or implement programs of reuse, recycling and composting and slowly phase out conventional waste-disposal systems. Plans in the making include household-grease collection for biodiesel production, giving a second life to unwanted electronics, and, further in the future, building a facility where non-biodegradable landfill waste can be “cooked” to produce methane, ethanol and other flammable fuels in a process called gasification.

And while the Butte County Public Works department has expressed interest in partnering with the Oroville-based company, the county-operated Neal Road landfill currently charges haulers $37 per ton of delivered refuse, and director Mike Crump acknowledges that cutting off the waste stream could mean money lost for the county.

“But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to divert certain materials toward other uses,” he added. “We ultimately want to do what’s right for the environment and the longevity of the landfill.”

Already, says Crump, the last five years have seen a decline of incoming waste at a rate of almost 10 percent per year, a good thing or a bad one depending on whose talking. Public Works says that garbage once produced by the construction industry has diminished by a full 50 percent since 2006. While the impact that increased recycling has had on landfill revenue has not been assessed, it is thought to be substantial.

But Recology’s vice president and manager, Joe Matz, believes that the county and its economy will benefit in other—and greener—ways as landfills lose significance. Local infrastructure for renewable-energy industries, Matz predicts, could immediately supply 50 to 100 new jobs in the region while generating further revenue, energy, useable products and, in the future, still more jobs.

The most immediate project that Recology aims to launch could become reality within several months, says Matz. By partnering with BayTEC Alliance, a “clean-technology” nonprofit in Oroville, Recology plans to intercept discarded electronics from the waste stream, refurbish the items to saleable condition, and sell them at reduced prices at several local retail outlets. Such locations might appear within six months in Gridley, Paradise and Chico. The program, he says, would reduce production of “e-waste,” a growing source of landfill fodder.

Recology has already established a facility in Oroville where staff sort through debris from demolition and construction projects and return them to the market as useable materials. Additionally, Matz says a household-grease collection program could launch later this year, and the collected lipids could serve as biodiesel in Recology’s fleet of 48 trash-running vehicles. Roughly 100 homes might participate, with residents voluntarily collecting frying grease, butter and animal fat in containers and placing them curbside weekly for collection.

“The pilot run would give us an idea of how much grease is out there,” Matz says.

In addition to traditional recycling, Recology is implementing a number of programs to reduce the waste stream. One of them is aimed at collecting and refurbishing electronics.

photo courtesy of recology

The company is also seeking to establish some level of partnership with local restaurants and food outlets—but Recology may have competition in the grease-collection business. Springboard Biodiesel, a local manufacturer of biodiesel processing equipment, has developed an apparatus capable of producing 200,000 gallons of biodiesel per year from various forms of feedstock. Mark Roberts, the company’s CEO, envisions establishing a franchise network around Northern California, allowing small companies to use the patented machinery to turn waste grease into clean car fuel.

Roberts says he plans to pay for local restaurant grease and later this year run a pilot program to demonstrate the economic feasibility of the concept.

“Our goal is to make the production of biodiesel affordable,” Roberts said.

Recology’s Matz also knows that cost-efficiency ultimately will determine which renewable-energy programs take flight and which fail.

“These programs have to be sustainable,” he said. “Cost is a factor, and if they can’t pay for themselves they won’t last.”

But he believes they will last.

Landfills, though, might not, says Crump.

“There will always be waste, but the way we deal with it is going to change,” he said. “We’re probably going to be turning a lot more of it into energy.”