Compost recycling in San Antonio

And now that I’ve mentioned compost recycling, here’s a look at how it’s working in San Antonio.

At New Earth’s composting site off Interstate 10 on the far East Side, it is easy to pick out the pile generated by the city’s pilot composting program. No other heap has bright bits of plastic strewn like confetti throughout its mix.

“It’s evil,” company President Clayton Leonard said of the shredded Whataburger cups and H-E-B bags. “We don’t want that.”

A portion of the waste coming to New Earth is from the city’s new curbside collection service for organic material, the latest endeavor to reuse more and throw out less. But it is running into some of the same problems the city has encountered with more conventional recyclables such as plastics and glass: Too many residents don’t understand how to properly sort their garbage or don’t want to bother.

“Our residents are slowly getting it,” city Solid Waste Department Director David W. McCary said.

The organic waste program is being tested at more than 25,000 households, concentrated in four sections of the city. This week, the city will have distributed the last of the wheeled green carts for the test program for the exclusive disposal of organic waste — anything from chicken bones to grass clippings.

The hope is that tons of organic material will be collected by the city and sent to New Earth for processing into salable compost. In turn, the city will spend less on dumping waste in the landfill.

The start of the composting program couldn’t be better timed since the winter holidays are a peak time for food waste.

But for it to succeed on a large scale, residents will have to learn to keep plastics and glass out of the green composting cart. Otherwise, Leonard said, New Earth can’t sell the finished compost and make it worth its while.

I’ll be very interested to see how they deal with that problem. Landfill space is getting more and more scarce and expensive, and you can’t easily create more of them because people tend to object. The sensible answer, which also happens to be the best environmental choice, is to reduce the need for landfill space, and composting is a huge component of that. That’s going to mean a little more inconvenience for people, who will have to get used to putting food waste into another bin, but it beats the alternatives.

The city’s goal is to divert 60 percent of garbage from landfills by 2020. In the past five years, San Antonio has increased its recycling rate from 10 percent to 25 percent.

But the national average is 34 percent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Austin claims a 38 percent recycling rate.


To reach the 60 percent diversion rate, McCary said, the plan is to gradually reduce the frequency of the garbage pickup and charge according to the volume of garbage. Those who compost and recycle would pay less than those who don’t — a pricing system already adopted by some major cities.

The landfills the city depends on are going to be full in 70 years, according to state estimates.

That’s exactly what they should be doing. Put the cost where it belongs, on those who insist on being wasteful. Sooner or later, something like this will come to Houston, too.

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3 Responses to Compost recycling in San Antonio

  1. RBearSAT says:

    We’ll see how this program works. I’ve heard some residents here afraid that when implemented neighbors will start pushing their excess trash into each other’s bins. I know that’s probably an exaggeration but it does create some interesting dynamics in an environment where everything was equal, up to this point.

    San Antonio is just getting the multi-family recycling program in gear. In my building I’ve noticed about a 20% participation rate even though everyone pays the same fee. Some people just don’t want to take the time to divert the waste. However, even with that low a level of participation every Monday the waste provider collects 2 full large roll bins of recyclables for a 240 unit building, mostly 1 bedroom.

  2. Ross says:

    Landfill space is not getting more scarce, it’s just getting further away. There are huge tracts of West Texas where landfills would not be noticed at all, it’s just more costly to get the trash there.

  3. The only way, in my opinion, to keep the plastics out of the compost is to have a sorting system after pick up but that could be cost prohibitive. I hope this works and serves as a model for other cities.

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