Collection Containers for Organic Waste

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At least five states have imposed bans prohibiting the disposal of organics in landfills. Some states and cities imposed mandatory organic waste recycling laws that target generators of anywhere from 1 ton of food waste per week to 104 tons of food waste or more per year. These actions are outcome-oriented rather than process-oriented, allowing businesses, residents, and municipalities to determine the most effective method of diverting organics from the landfills. It works: the year after Vermont instituted an organics ban, donations to food banks increased by 60%. Some generators are able to compost or anaerobically digest the organics onsite. The more common approach, however, is to send the waste to a processing facility—if one is conveniently located. The laws in Rhode Island and Connecticut apply only to generators within 15 and 20 miles, respectively, of a processing facility that accepts food waste. Vermont’s law currently applies to generators within 20 miles of a facility, but in 2020 it evolves into a total ban on food scraps in landfills without exemption due to distances. Since 2016, California has mandated that businesses generating at least 8 cubic yards of organic waste per week must either recycle the organics onsite or subscribe to a recycling service and that local jurisdictions create organic waste recycling programs to divert organic waste produced by businesses and multifamily dwellings with five or more units (AB 1826 Chesbro [Chapter 727, Statutes of 2014]). The amount changed to 4 cubic yards in 2017 and could be cut in half by 2020 if the amount of organics being disposed of hasn’t been cut by 50% of the 2014 level. It’s happening at the local level, too. In 2016, New York City began requiring hotels with 150 or more rooms, food vendors in arenas and stadiums with a seating capacity of over 15,000, food manufacturers with an area of at least 25,000 square feet, and food wholesalers with at least 20,000 square feet to source-separate their organics and send to a processing facility if they do not process onsite.

Types of Organic Waste
While the goal of diverting organics from the landfill is noble, accomplishing it is difficult, confusing, and costly. Organics are heavy. They’re wet. They’re smelly. They require special handling. Those in the business are familiar with the “yuck factor.” As decomposition commences, odor proliferates. Organics contaminate other waste if not separated and create a mess even when they are.

Organic waste consists of food or kitchen waste, green waste, landscape waste (grass clippings, leaves, flower and hedge trimmings, branches, and weeds), nonhazardous wood waste, and food-soiled paper waste that gets mixed in with food waste (both uncoated products like napkins, paper towels, tissues, formed paper packaging such as egg cartons, and some paper plates and cups, and coated paper products like food-service wrappers, to-go containers, pizza boxes, cardboard boxes, and other materials that contain liners made of polyethylene or other synthetic grease/water-resistant components). It can also include manure and some forms of textiles that can be recycled at organic recycling facilities. As defined by the State of California, food waste typically consists of solid, semisolid, and liquid food, such as fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat, bones, poultry, seafood, bread, rice, pasta, and oils; coffee grounds, filters, and tea bags; cut flowers and herbs; and any putrescible matter produced from human or animal food production, preparation, and consumption activities—and food-soiled paper. The challenges of organics collection relate to the challenge of organics recycling. Finding markets isn’t easy. Dian Sommers, national account manager of refuse and utility for Snyder Industries, reports that one county recycling center claims that the only way an organics recycling program will work is if a food manufacturer cooks down the waste and sells it for food for hogs. She knows of a company in Quincy, IL, that buys organics waste to make dog food. The lack of markets has hindered progress, Sommers believes. “Are municipalities and businesses doing it? Organics are not developing as fast as expected. It’s limited, mainly used by businesses like restaurants and nursing homes. There’s just not much out there.” She attributes that to the difficulty of collecting organics. “You would need a vacuum truck; a regular trash truck doesn’t want the moisture or sloshing. No one wants to pick it up or lift it.” The carts are huge, Sommers continues: 300-gallon is the most popular. That makes things difficult for companies with a limited footprint. It also complicates things, she says, because customers prefer one cart for everything, not three or four carts for different types of waste. The carts must also be sealed. “No holes, no leaking. The EPA won’t allow toxic drainage in the sewer.” And because organics waste is heavy, it can’t be put in a regular trash truck. “You need a special truck to lift it.”

The Toronto program changed things, claims Dennis Monestier, sales manager for Rehrig Pacific Co. The Canadian city moved to a fully automated organics collection that uses a larger container because it’s more efficient, he says.

It’s more than just efficient. Switching from a manual load to an automated load with proper grab bar placement reduced repetitive injuries, and thus, workers’ compensation issues. “Organics are just too heavy for manual disposal,” observes Monestier. Rehrig was tasked with developing a raccoon-resistant container, Monestier explains. The one-handed latch features a lock that works in windy areas and is sturdy enough to thwart Toronto’s raccoon population. Their solution has resulted in decreasing the population by eliminating one source of food. While raccoons may be Toronto’s problem, bears are prevalent in western Canada, Florida, Alaska, and Colorado. For those areas, Rehrig developed an IGDHC-certified 95-gallon cart with a pliable body that bounces back from impacts, a reinforced lid to withstand heavy weights, and a patented lock that opens easily with clips, but stays closed even when picked up by a bear. “It’s actually bear-tested,” says Monestier. “The bear can pick up the container, but the container won’t open because it’s a different motion than the lifter.” Cart specifications had to match the lifters in width and height. Rehrig’s design team complied with ANSI standard size, but beyond regulations, Monestier says the program drives the size of the container. “Some want a 65-gallon cart. You have to look at it holistically: who uses and who services the containers.” Toronto actually uses four sizes of containers by design. The customer pays for the container, with rebates on the smallest one in order to drive habits for recycling. Recycling is driven by ethics, legislation, or cost, Monestier believes. “If you roll out the program, you won’t be successful if it’s not already a habit in that area.” Toronto hopes to create habits through incentivizing customers. Their organics program currently collects only kitchen scraps, diapers, and plastic bags. Monestier says there’s a smaller volume of kitchen scraps, so the smaller container is OK for weekly collection. “If you add leaf and yard waste, you need a larger size.” Cart size depends on what is collected and the frequency of collection. “You can adjust for weekly collection when needed due to odor, maggots, and decomposition, or save money with bi-monthly pickup—as long as they comply with provincial legislation that says you must retrieve X by (date).” Either way, he says there’s “not much difference” between public versus private collection. “Toronto outsources half the city to private haulers,” elaborates Monestier. “They must follow the same guidelines – have the same types of vehicles, containers, lift mechanisms, and schedule. But they have no union workers, so workers’ comp claims are fewer, resulting in less cost.” But even if Toronto was to go all private, they would still have the same expectations in regards to trucks and containers.

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