Environmental Services Manager Angelica Gurule
By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post
In public opinion, plastic seems to be the main villain in causing the long list of hazards plaguing the environment. There is another ominous item, however, wreaking havoc in the environment.
What is this item and where does it exist? Just open the refrigerator door or kitchen cupboard to find out. It’s food.
Nationally, Environmental Services Division Manager Angelica Gurule said, 40 percent of all food purchased is wasted annually. Also, the average household loses $1,500 each year by tossing out uneaten food.
Food that lands in the trash gets trucked to a landfill about 90 miles away, Gurule said. There, it decomposes and releases methane gas, which is a harmful gas and contributes to global warming.
This is an issue that hits home for Los Alamos. Gurule pointed out that the County had to address methane gas being released from the former landfill in Los Alamos.
So how can this environmental enemy be defeated? Los Alamos County, along with the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) are collaborating to respond to food waste through a New Mexico Clean and Beautiful (NMCB) grant that was recently awarded to Los Alamos County.
The grant, which totals $12,300, will be used for several things. Gurule said the grant will purchase backyard compost bins, kitchen top containers to collect food waste, as well as provide education and outreach on how to successfully compost.
How many compost bins and what type of bin will be purchased is not currently known. For the education component, Gurule said attractive and eye-catching flyers and educational materials will be developed. The goal is to officially unveil the program on Earth Day 2021.
“The composting materials purchased with NMCB grant funds will help many residents start a backyard compost,” PEEC Adventure Programs Manager Beth Cortright said. “We’ll provide countertop and backyard compost bins, as well as educational materials and quick guides to keep near your countertop bin.”
She added, “A backyard compost can be an easy way to reduce your household waste that goes to the landfill while enjoying the benefits of ‘free’ organic compost to add to your garden. The educational materials produced with the NMCB grant funds will answer frequent questions about composting to make it even easier for everyone.”
Additionally, Gurule said the County Council earmarked $50,000 for “diverting food waste by composting, streamlining collection practices and developing operational best practices for managing food waste.”
Also, the County funds will procure sustainable utensils and trays for the Los Alamos Public Schools.
“The goal is to keep food waste out of the landfill,” Gurule said.
Cortright pointed out the benefits of composting extends beyond saving money and decreasing the amount of waste trucked to the landfill.
“Angelica is correct that backyard composting can be an eye-opening exercise in household food waste,” she said. “Using organic compost enriches the soil by adding essential nutrients, improving moisture retention, encouraging beneficial microbes, and reducing plant diseases and pests. You can add finished compost to help potted plants, vegetable gardens, flowers, shrubs, trees and lawns.”
Public interest in a municipal composting program was expressed during the 2019 Los Alamos Summer Concerts, which practiced zero waste, Gurule said.
“We heard a lot of interest for municipal composting programs during the 2019 Los Alamos Summer Concert Series and because it stirred interest in the community we’ve been working on projects that would support food waste composting including backyard composting and conducting a food waste composting feasibility study,” she said.
She added that she is excited about the collaboration between PEEC and the County.
“I think PEEC has great staff that are knowledgeable, passionate and work hard to educate and engage the community about a number of environmental topics,” Gurule said. “We’ve worked together on various projects in the past and I believe this partnership will help this project be successful.”
Cortright said she also is excited about the partnership between the County and PEEC.
“Environmental Services is a wonderful County resource that works hard to promote sustainability — both when processing waste at the Eco Station and in households in Los Alamos and White Rock,” she said. “We’re really looking forward to working with them to bring composting materials and resources to our neighbors and promote more environmentally-conscious decisions in Los Alamos County.”