Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local and Tribal Governments

Maximizing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions through Food Waste Diversion

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Humboldt County, California

Federal Funding: $200,000
Project Timeline: April 2011 – June 2014

Project Summary

As new landfills have become more challenging to permit, and as old landfills reach the end of their useful life, municipalities are increasingly reliant on larger landfills located outside the jurisdiction's borders. In Humboldt County's case, the landfills are an average of 180 miles away. The Humboldt Waste Management Authority (HWMA) developed a project to create an efficient food waste collection program that maximizes the GHG reductions achieved from food waste diversion—reducing emissions via diverting food waste from landfills, reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and using biogas to offset fossil fuel use.

HWMA worked with commercial and industrial early adopters who were interested in food waste collection. HWMA staff helped these early adopters develop on-site food separation systems, and helped them maintain a high rate of food waste diversion. HWMA worked with Humboldt State University (HSU), the first early adopter, to ensure clean loads of organic material were collected from the campus dining services areas for the food waste diversion program. HWMA launched the full Pilot Food Waste Collection program in September 2012, and continued working with Recology to execute the pilot collection program for the City of Eureka. HWMA also had a fruitful meeting with Costco, who committed to participate in the food waste diversion program and began to reconfigure its waste collection area to incorporate a new compactor for organic materials. In September 2012, HWMA successfully conducted an effort to divert organic waste from a local festival, and has developed a protocol for serving other festivals and events afterwards.

HWMA also developed a program brochure, education materials, and a participant recognition campaign, as well as holding trainings for participating businesses on waste diversion. The program also involved contacting potential early adopters, developing a GIS model to optimize the hauling system for the food waste collection program, developing a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions calculator, and meeting with local jurisdictions to gain support for expanding the Pilot.

HWMA measured the quantity of food waste collected at each location, performed on-site waste audits, and used this data to model the project's performance over time.

In addition to improving food waste diversion from commercial and industrial establishments, the project created a GIS mapping tool that to help organizations model and analyze efficient food waste collection strategies. The tool incorporated the amount of food waste collected, the trash bin size, frequency of trash pickup, and the location of the future anaerobic digesters. The tool will be used to model and compare the changes in GHG emissions for three different food waste collection approaches in order to determine the best collection strategy for each site. The three food waste collection options in consideration are 1) reduced trash collection service requirements, 2) dual stream collection trucks, and 3) bi-monthly garbage collection in conjunction with food waste collection up to three times per week.

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Community Characteristics 

Population:                                 130,000

Area:                                         3,572 square miles

Government Type:                       County Waste Management Authority

Community Type:                        Urban and Suburban

Median household income:             $39,124

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Final Results

Projected Cumulative Results  

Annual GHG Reductions

115.5 mt CO2e

1,727 mt CO2e

Waste Diverted Annually

503 tons

2,600 tons

Annual Vehicle Mile Reductions

4,134 miles

42,000 miles

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Lessons Learned

  • The design of the material collection and processing system has an impact on costs, and costs determine the nature of overall community support for the project. To make the project cost effective, more participation was needed.
  • A monitoring and feedback system was helpful to keep track of inevitable contamination. This program design allowed for the same type of single side-loader garbage truck to service both small and large producers, instead of requiring two different truck types.
  • Small and large producers each got the same type of 90-gallon tote, and large producers were given more totes, instead of being given a different container type that would have required an entirely different truck.
  • It took more time to establish a demonstration composting facility than HWMA had initially expected for a variety of reasons, including permitting requirements.

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In addition to the GIS mapping tool, the project prepared a food waste resource assessment "tool-kit" and developed commercial food waste diversion program guidelines. Other communities interested in developing a food waste diversion program can use these tools to help develop efficient food waste collection systems in order to reduce the GHG emissions impact associated with waste management.

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Project Websites
Humboldt Waste Management Authority Food Waste website Exit
Humboldt Foodwaste Diversion Pilot Program Facebook page Exit

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