Recycling food waste is no big deal

  • Tue Aug 31st, 2010 10:21pm
  • News

By Julie Muhlstein, Herald Columnist

This not-so-greenie has a confession: I haven’t yet put a single food scrap in my yard waste bin.

It’s been nearly a year since Rubatino Refuse Removal, the garbage company serving Everett and parts of Mukilteo, let customers know it would accept food waste along with grass clippings and raked-up leaves.

Everett was a little late to the party. By the time Everett’s Public Works Department sent out a flier last fall saying Rubatino would recycle table scraps, Seattle’s single-family garbage customers were required to sign up for food-waste recycling. It was also an option for Snohomish County customers of Waste Management and Allied Waste.

The list of acceptable items includes not only fruit and vegetable scraps but meat, fish, chicken, bones and dairy products, along with pizza boxes and paper napkins.

If it all sounds icky, remember the point. Recycling keeps untold tons of trash out of landfills.

There’s no sugar-coating what has so far kept me from putting every uneaten morsel in the yard bin. It’s the rotten idea of unrefrigerated meat, decaying in a yard bin until trash pickup day.

In my mind, it’s one thing when leftover hamburger is put outside in a plastic garbage bag. It’s quite another when that old burger is sitting out there along with pruned rhododendron branches. What about rats and raccoons? What about bacteria and odor?

For months, Herald readers have seen articles about unpleasant odors and efforts to stem the stink at Cedar Grove Composting. The company on Everett’s Smith Island uses a high-tech process to turn organic waste into garden compost. Cedar Grove has a contract with Rubatino, and accepts organic waste from King County.

From my north Everett porch, I’ll occasionally sniff what I suspect is the Cedar Grove aroma. Who wants to add to any odor problem by putting chicken in with grass clippings?

Still, I don’t want to be the last person on the planet to get it — every effort to care for the earth matters. Small changes in habits bring big benefits.

After a pep talk from a smart master gardener, I’m ready to start putting dinner scraps in with yard waste. I’ll have an easier time throwing in apple cores than spaghetti scraped off a plate, but I’ll give it a try.

“A little bit of common sense prevails,” said Don Bloom, 72, a master gardener who has taught composting classes through Washington State University Extension Snohomish County. In the 1990s, Bloom worked as a master composter and recycler in a training program with Snohomish County’s Solid Waste Division.

The Lake Stevens area man said my concerns are well-founded, at least for backyard composting. He recommends in classes that meat not be put in compost piles because of “unwanted critters.” Impressed by Cedar Grove’s process, Bloom said the company has the technology to break down matter that causes problems in home compost piles.

Yet Bloom said he’s all for putting meat scraps and bones in a yard-waste bin. “They pick it up once a week and it’s gone. You’re not going to have those problems,” he said. Back to common sense, he said if it’s warm outside and you have a turkey carcass, keep it in a freezer until pickup day.

“That’s a very simple thing to do,” Bloom said. “You don’t want to make it objectionable.”

The flier sent out last fall suggested rinsing the yard bin frequently and layering shredded paper, food scraps and yard trimmings.

Larry Goulet, office manager at Rubatino Refuse Removal, doesn’t have a good estimate of how many yard-waste customers are adding food scraps to the bins. With the option came the addition of weekly pickup of the bins all winter, which Goulet said costs a customer about $27 more per year.

“Some people didn’t want to be billed in the winter, and we understand that,” Goulet said.

Of 18,000 residential customers, between 15,000 and 16,000 have yard-bin service, he said.

It’s not too late to get a free kitchen food scrap container. The flier said customers can get one by bringing a Rubatino bill to the Everett office at 2812 Hoyt Ave. Goulet said Tuesday that containers are still available.

“We had a huge rush at the beginning, and the reaction has remained very positive. I haven’t heard a single complaint about the smell,” Goulet said.

“We have to get smarter and do the little things that count,” Bloom said. “Ninety-five percent of the people I have met want to do the right thing, as long as they’re given the chance.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.