Recycling & Composting - Napa Locals Want to Do the Right Thing
There’s a misinformed argument made by some that recycling is a waste of time, as “most recycled materials will end up in a landfill anyway.” That definitely isn’t the case in Napa. There are a lot of good reasons to recycle and compost, including that not recycling would cost locals a lot of money. “If Napa residents and businesses simply threw away all the recyclables that we now sell, everyone’s (waste services) rates would increase by 18-20%,” according to Kevin Miller, the City’s Recycling Manager. “It doesn’t matter if your political leanings are red, blue or purple…the reasons to actively recycle and compost should make sense to everyone. From creating jobs to reducing pollution to saving energy and natural resources…waste prevention, recycling and composting are the key to unlocking so many benefits for our community and our world.”
Miller has been on the job since 1997, and is passionate about what he does. Two years before he joined the staff, Napa’s recycling rate, “technically known as ‘landfill diversion rate,’” said Miller, was at 27% and holding. That means that almost three quarters of everything that people threw out ended up at the dump. An even bigger shame when you realize how much difference recycling
can make. “The energy saved from recycling just one aluminum can is enough to run a television for three hours,” reports Miller.
Tim Dewey-Mattia is the Recycling and Education Manager for Napa Recycling and Waste Services. Like Miller, he carefully considered what he does for a living. “I could have taken up a lot of causes, but something like ‘save the whales’ doesn’t connect with me every day as the way how people handle their waste does,” he said. He explained some of the impacts of not recycling. “Landfills are anaerobic systems, meaning they are mostly sealed from air,” he said. “So when food and other compostables break down in a landfill, they produce methane gas, a bad kind of greenhouse gas, which is 25 to 75% more potent than carbon dioxide.” That’s just part of the problem. “When a recyclable plastic ends up as landfill, it means that the petroleum products and other ingredients that were used to produce it can’t be reused, and we have to use more of those resources to produce replacement plastic products.”
Kendra Bruno is the Waste Prevention Specialist for the City. When the city created the position, they did a national search to find the right candidate. “With Kendra, there was no question – she is the best!”said Miller.
Bruno said one of the biggest problems is “Wishful-recycling.” “Wishful Recycling is when people put items that they think should be recyclable (like film or flexible, soft plastics) into their recycling container. Or they actually don’t know, and are confused by labels with the ‘chasing arrows’ recycling symbol on them. (Maybe they think that) because there are “sorters” it will be all okay because someone else (at the recycling center) will figure it out.” She said that certain items, no matter how badly people want them to be recyclable, aren’t and never will be. “Styrofoam, hoses, electrical cords, film and soft, flimsy plastic have never been accepted in our single-stream recyclable curbside materials.“ Bruno and her staff set up a Flip the Lid program, visiting five neighborhoods and randomly auditing recycle bins that folks had taken to the curb for pickup. “People generally did a great job, but of the 1400 cans we audited, 1200 had plastic bags in them.” People were notified with an “Oops” tag if their cans were 20% or more contaminated, and given a “Great Job” tag if under 5%.
Another challenge is the packaging that is being used by companies like Amazon, which ship millions of packages worldwide. Products are boxed, wrapped in bubble wrap and then put in another box for shipping. “People who try to do the right thing at home are confused when things like that show up at their door,” said Dewey-Mattia.
Despite the obstacles, Napa’s track record for recycling is actually quite good and should get even better. The State has been passing increasingly stricter land diversion rates, and Napans have stepped up. “That 27% diversion rate from 1995? The rate was an estimated 69% in 2017,” Miller stated. “The goal is that we reach 75% diversion by 2020, and getting there will be challenging but it is attainable.” Part of his optimism is based on the fact that Napans can now compost virtually all food scraps and food-soiled paper containers. “It has never been easier to (compost) in the City of Napa then it is now,” said Bruno. “Instead of putting all those food scraps and soiled paper (napkins, paper towels, tissues, etc.) into your landfill/trash can in the kitchen, collect them in a different container and then dispose of them in your (residential) brown cart.” She went on to say that these new compost allowances resulted in a 13% decrease in residential landfilled waste in 2015 and 2016.
The City and NRWS are investing in $4 million of upgrades to the recycling sorting line and another $12 million in state-of-the art composting and storm water management improvements at Napa’s facility, and besides upping Napa’s game, it’s the envy of many. “We’re a role model for people in other California cities, and actually from around the world,” said Dewey-Mattia. The main thing that has helped Napa reach such a high diversion rate is that people are recycling and composting more and more. “People really want to do the right thing,” said Dewey-Mattia. “When they don’t, it sometimes just means that they need a little more education and encouragement.” That education is available at naparecycling.com , or you can contact Kendra Bruno directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.