Palo Alto examines new compost technologies
The future o adidas football boots f Palo Alto’s composting could be found in ancient Amazonian soil, in gargantuan plastic bags or in stainless steel blocks regulated by computers.
As city officials and environmentalists continue to debate whether Palo Alto’s composting options should remain in the Baylands or move elsewhere, each side is looking to new technology for help.
On Dec. 15, several members of the public offered the City Council alternatives to the currently used composting system, in which six sprawling piles of ground up yard clippings stretch out in parallel 300 foot long “windrows” near the southern tip of the landfill.
The technology debate will likely re emerge at the council’s Jan. 12 meeting.
So what are these new composting technologies, which advocates say could be cleaner and take up less land than the current process? A recent staff report outlined different methods, including an “in vessel” system that relies on tightly regulated, generally odor proof steel vessels to turn feedstock into compost; and an “ag bag” system that covers stockpiled greenery with 200 foot long plastic bags, a method that accelerates the composting process.
The report, however, recommended continuing the windrow method for two years after the landfill’s scheduled closure in 2010 and establishing a new task force to consider other methods.
Vice Mayor Peter Drekmeier, one of the most adamant proponents of keeping composting within city limits, said he would ultimately like to see an in vessel system that could also process the city’s food waste and sewer sludge. Such a facility could ultimately stand next to the Regional Water Quality Control Plant, he said.
“The vision would be that ultimately we would do in vessel composting, and we’d have it right up next to the water treatment plant so it’s as unobtrusive as possible,” Drekmeier said at the Dec. 15 meeting.
Joel Davidson, who sits on the Parks and Recreation Commission, also voiced his support for the in vessel system and proposed teaming up with Stanford University or neighboring communities to build the necessary facilities. Staff estimated the equipment for an in vessel facility to cost between $4 million and $8.9 million, depending on the type of system implemented.
“It is my hope the City Council will take a second look at an in vessel facility,” said Davidson, speaking as a citizen, not as a commissioner. “I think it would definitely be worth the expense for our community to take on.”
Others proposed even newer and more experimental technologies.
Robert Niederman, a long time organic gardener, said city leaders should consider switching to a “biochar” system, which involves burning organic waste at temperatures of 500 degrees Fahrenheit in a low oxygen container.
The process creates a adidas football boots porous charcoal substance called “biochar,” which Niederman said makes a valuable soil additive.
Niederman, who founded a company called Rich Earth Enterprises to promote biochar, said the process of mixing charcoal with soil was used by residents of ancient Amazon to grow crops on soil that was otherwise too thin and sandy to support production.
The process is currently being studied at Cornell University and at University of Georgia, Niderman said, and a few cities and farms in the United States are in the process of opening up their own operations. Canada and Australia have also been using this method, he said.
The City Council has remained split on technology. Though everyone agreed that a task force should explore all methods of composting, council members clashed over how long it would take to bring in a new system.
Councilmen Pat Burt and Yiaway Yeh argued that three years could be enough time to implement a new technology and proposed extending the current compost operations until the end of 2011. Burt acknowledged that even his proposed three year timeline is aggressive, but emphasized the importance of finding alternatives to the windrow system.
“We are looking at dividing our community over a false choice,” Councilman Pat Burt said at the Dec. 15 meeting. “Choosing to undedicate 7.5 acres of parkland for outdated windrow technology is akin to trying to preserve a dinosaur.”
But others, including Mayor Larry Klein, said it would take much longer than two or three years to explore and implement new composting technology. Klein, along with Drekmeier and Councilman Jack Morton, sided with the staff’s suggestion to keep the windrow operation running until the end of 2012.
The city’s main focus, Klein argued, should be to reduce its carbon footprint by keeping composting local, not expecting “magic new technologies that may or may not be out there.”
“I think we have to do what we can right now, and if better technology comes along we should use it,” Klein said.
Compared to other nearby park experiences, the Palo Alto Baylands and Byxbee, are a bore. Mt. View and Menlo Park have created interesting parks on their dumps. Why do we need to spend more money on dressing up our dump when nearby facilities exist? I hope the council will stop cringing at every pleading by advocates of Byxbee and maintain and expand the composting and recycling operations.
The recycling operation should be maintained. The more inconvenient it is to recycle dangerous materials like batteries, for example, the more likely they will be abandoned and leach into our soils.
Recycling increases consciousness about the environment and the relationship between consumption and waste. Every trip there is a learning experience and reinforces our dedication to ‘doing something’ to cleaning up our messes. True, a vehicle trip with a few boxes of paper make no sense, but trips with metals and large quantities of recyclables can justify the amount of fuel used.
Council seems to have lost sight of the ONLY real reason that cities create and maintain dumps and recycling centers. They were historically created to remove any incentive for people to just randomly dump or abandon trash in streets and creeks and empty lots, etc.
The more difficult it becomes to recycle and get rid of trash and garbage the more, I fear, we will start seeing stuff just randomly appearing curbside and throughout adidas football boots our city.
I do not think any benefit that a “completed” Byxbee could possibly offer can counterbalance the disadvantages of not being able to simply make a trip to the local dump and the recycling center IN THEIR CURRENT FORM.
Furthermore, am I the only Palo Alto homeowner that is sick and tired of the city letting themselves be enslaved by agreements made dec adidas football boots ades ago when conditions were different and the ramifications perhaps not fully appreciated.
If it “ain’t broke” don’t “fix” it. Let’s keep both the dump and the recycling center as they are. If the heaps are too high to meet EPA regulations, then let’s spread out to the old ITT property or elsewhere in the swamp that some people call the baylands. Convenience is also a quality of life issue.