Eye on the Environment
Tough solutions to waste problems
By David Goldstein 02/27/2014
Nearly 25 years after Assembly Bill 939 required every city and county in California to implement programs for the separate collection of household hazardous waste, we can all be justifiably proud of the local programs for collection we have in Ventura County. Every major urban area has temporary collection events, and residents also have access to permanent facilities for most materials banned from landfills. Ventura County also has its share of private companies to handle paint, motor oil, video monitors (including televisions and computer screens) and rechargeable batteries. Some companies are mandated by state law to take back these items for recycling.
Recently, a resident contacted me, flummoxed by the more complicated process required to recycle a smoke detector. Because many smoke detectors contain a radioactive element, they are banned not only from landfills but also from household hazardous waste collection events. On the packaging of most smoke alarms, manufacturers make the helpful suggestion that users mail back to them smoke alarms that have reached the end of their useful lives. The resident initially was upset that “the government” does not provide a service more convenient, less expensive and safer than sending this “dangerous” material through the U.S. Postal Service.
I acknowledged his point and asked him if he had heard about the growing product stewardship movement, which says those who profit from the manufacture and sale of a product should be responsible for the downstream consequences, including disposal. This reasoning — used to make paint, motor oil, video monitors and rechargeable batteries easily recyclable without government expense — could someday be applied to smoke alarms.
Following this discussion, he did some Internet research, and he called me back last week to tell me that he is going to support a nonprofit organization working on expanding the list of products covered by policies such as advanced disposal fees, through which a fee charged at the point of sale is transferred, sometimes through a nonprofit industry association to private businesses responsible for handling the waste from products they produce.
Bill O’Brien and Phil Sherman, leaders of the community group Waste2Energy (W2E), campaigned energetically to find an economical way to reduce the impact of horse manure on creeks and groundwater. Some horse owners either compost incorrectly or simply stockpile their animals’ manure in ways that result in runoff into the Ventura River.
Anaerobic digestion technology could turn food waste, yard clippings and horse and livestock manure into energy, compost and liquid fertilizer, so the Ventura County Watershed Protection District, supported by W2E and other stakeholders in the Ventura River watershed, obtained state grant funding and hired consultants to produce a feasibility report on the viability of a 50-ton-per-day biodigester. Last month, consultants reported participants would have to pay $35 per ton to drop off material at a digester and that the biodigester initiative seems to lack a strong enough financial or agency backing to bring the full-size concept to operation.
The initiative came closest to gaining traction when the Ojai Valley Sanitary District board considered it, but they decided to focus on current sewage processes instead, following the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board’s decision not to allow a digester as an alternative to other mitigation measures for preventing pollution of the Ventura River.
The biodigester concept could revive if the price of energy or compost rises, or if the Regional Water Quality Control Board makes on-site composting of horse manure so difficult that more horse owners choose to pay for collection.
In contrast to the possibility of an Ojai Valley digester, next month Agromin is seeking to extend its permit for operation of a site near Ormond Beach, partly so it can set up a temporary pilot digester. Also, it is currently in the permitting process for a digester that would be part of a “biogenic energy park” at Limoneira, near Santa Paula.
The proposed Agromin facilities at Limoneira may be able to handle some manure, but not with anaerobic digestion. As noted by Agromin’s manager, appropriately named Dave Green, manure is stinky, makes the resulting compost ineligible for use on certain crops, and has already been digested once by a living digester (the horse), so it has less energy value than other potential inputs.
In the meantime, the existing Agromin site near Ormond Beach is composting food waste, using covered aerated static piles, an advanced composting method relying on covered piles, managed airflow, controlled levels of moisture, and precise scientific monitoring systems. But no horse manure.
The Eye on the Environment column is a service of the Ventura County Public Works Agency.