State’s first all-solar composting facility opens in Chula Vista backyard


Have you wondered what will happen to your leftover food or greasy pizza box when California’s new food waste recycling law comes into effect in January?

Last week in Chula Vista, solid waste hauler Republic Services revealed exactly where this organics will end up and how it will be turned into reusable products.

A new six-acre composting facility has been set up at the Otay landfill in the southeast corner of town. Food and yard waste from residents and businesses in Chula Vista will be broken down using 180 solar panels, making it the first all-solar composting site in California.

“Now we are working together to help the city and our region meet these ambitious climate action goals, and we are very, very proud to have innovated a new composting facility in our backyard,” said Mary Casillas Salas, mayor of Chula Vista.

Republic Services served as the solid waste hauler for Chula Vista and is now expected to help the city meet the requirements of the new state law requiring the diversion of organic waste from landfills. That’s because organic materials, such as food scraps, paper, and yard waste, make up 50 percent of what Californians throw away in landfills. This waste emits 20% of the state’s methane.

“The law was designed to fight superpollutants. These are pollutants like methane, which are 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, ”Cara Morgan, branch manager at CalRecycle, said Wednesday during an opening event at the composting facility. “Recycling organic waste into new products is a fast track to tackle climate change. “

Senate Bill 1383, enacted in 2016, set methane emission reduction targets for the state and required that by January 2022, jurisdictions have a program in place that will help meet those targets. . The state’s reduction mark is 75 percent by 2025. San Diego County’s target is 80 percent by 2030 and Chula Vista’s target is 90 percent by 2035. At the city level, 41 percent of the overall composition of the city’s waste is organic material, said Manuel Medrano, the city’s director of environmental services.

California would need around 100 to 150 additional anaerobic digesters and composting facilities like the one at Chula Vista to help meet the state’s goal on its own, said Chris Seney, director of Republic Services and product operator. organic. But, he added, recycling organic waste is just one of many ways to reduce methane emissions.

The Otay facility, which is expected to create around 15 new jobs, will play a key role as the city works to create a culture where residents recycle, compost and reuse organic waste. This is how it works.

From trash to installation

In January, all households will have to throw their organic waste with their garden waste in their green recycling bins. Medrano estimates that 43,000 of the city’s 58,000 households already have garbage cans, and for those who do not, Republic Services will pay for the purchase of 15,000 carts.

The transporter will then transport the collections to the composting facility each week. The same should happen for commercial businesses that generate large amounts of food waste, such as restaurants and hotels.

The Otay composting facility uses solar panels to speed up the composting process.

(Jarrod Valliere / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Treat waste

Once at the site, the organic material will be crushed into 3- to 4-inch pieces to create compost piles.

The piles are then placed in pipes about 100 feet long and are concealed under a large textile cover which creates ideal composting conditions that trap odors and other emissions such as dust. The batteries also receive water to bring the humidity up to about 60 percent.

“(It’s) absolutely imperative that you get into that moisture or that you don’t compost. You’re just moving green waste, ”Seney said, adding that a pile uses about 12,000 gallons of water. The site uses water collected from the city.

The composting process lasts a total of eight weeks, during which the piles are moved from pipe to pipe and examined for ideal conditions including humidity, temperature and oxygen. Solar panels power fans and sensors that regulate oxygen and temperature levels to speed up composting.

The organic waste goes through a shredder which produces a fine mulch which is then capped, watered and pumped with oxygen.

The organic waste goes through a shredder which produces a fine mulch which is then capped, watered and pumped with oxygen.

(Jarrod Valliere / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“We can move that anywhere on the site and we have the power. So we are completely off the grid. This means that it supplies the fans, the temperature sensors, the oxygen. It also feeds into our office, ”Seney said. The facility is also capable of providing three days of electricity if the weather conditions are not ideal.

The composting site can process up to 100 tonnes of organic material per day and is expected to double its capacity by the end of the year. For comparison, Chula Vista generates around 120 to 140 tonnes of organic waste per day, Seney said.

After eight weeks, the material is separated into products of various sizes, such as compost and mulch, which will be made available to the public for farming or gardening.

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