County Food Compost Plan Under Consideration

ESDManager Angelica Gurule

Los Alamos Daily Post

Los Alamos County tosses out a lot of food. In fact, 20 percent of the local waste stream is made of food.

This is a problem. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in 2012 it published a report that revealed that up to 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten. This means that an annual estimated cost of $218 billion is lost in uneaten food, costing a household of four an average of $1,800 annually. Plus, resources are wasted including 21 percent of U.S. agricultural water usage and 19 percent of all U.S. croplands, the NRDC reports. Not to mention that food in the landfill releases methane, which produces more greenhouse gas emissions than 37 million cars annually, according to NRDC.

Environmental Services, along with the Environmental Sustainability Board (ESB), are proposing a solution to this problem: municipal-wide composting. The recommendation to council is to provide drop off sites at the Eco Station and Overlook Collection Center to collect residential food waste and provide curbside collection for businesses.

The food waste would be transported to Bayo Canyon where a windrow system would be implemented to create compost soil. Council has yet to take any action on this recommendation; this was proposed first in May 2022 and council had follow up questions regarding the environmental and financial impacts. The next round of discussion will be held during the council regular meeting at 6 p.m. Aug. 9 in the Municipal Building.

Council Chair Randall Ryti said council has questions about the program including financing, the locations for the residential collection bins and what the market is for compost soil.

He noted the main issue is whether fees for Environmental Services will be raised to support the compost program.

“I’m looking forward to seeing some positive information to show the utility for everyone in the community,” Ryti said.

Regarding ESB’s recommendation, Environmental Services Manager Angelica Gurule said the residential collection would be similar to the County’s glass recycling program. Bear-resistant containers would be used to collect the food waste. Curbside pickup would be offered to businesses including restaurants, Smith’s and the schools. Staff would truck the food waste to Bayo Canyon, which is the location for the County’s bio-solids compost program. She added if the program is approved, it would require a $2 million capital investment. There would be annual operating costs, too.

This investment would cover infrastructure, equipment and site development. However, Gurule argued this investment could be beneficial to the County. First, compost soil could be sold to landscape companies and residents on and off the hill. The soil could be used for the County’s own parks and residents already show their enthusiasm for compost soil. Gurule said the County’s supply of its own generated compost material does not meet the current demand. She added there is a benefit for doing the composting in-house.

“If we can manage the cost internally it would be a great benefit to the County, we stop hauling our waste 90 miles away to the Rio Rancho Landfill and we insulate ourselves from ever increasing hauling and disposal fees,” Gurule said.

Plus, it would help the overall goal of reducing food waste, she said.

“Our goal is to find a way to reduce our environmental impact and reduce waste sent to the landfill,” Gurule said. “This is the best option to divert waste.”

Ryti and Gurule commented on the feedback they have received for municipal compost has been positive. Gurule said at different Zero Waste events, Summer Concert Series, and Farmers Markets, people have expressed support for a municipal compost program.

“I do think the community is interested and wants a food composting program,” she said.

Ryti said the input he has received from the public has shown “overwhelming support” for the program. Council will act on the recommendation but the date is unknown.

LOS ALAMOS website support locally by OviNuppi Systems