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How To “Watch Your Waste”

Part of the audience for the talk.


We had an impressive array of speakers for the February GreenTown meeting, “Watch Your Waste” at the Los Altos Library. Speakers included GreenTown’s Margie Suozzo, Susanna Chan, Los Altos Director of Public Works, Tim Giacomini with Mission Trail and Garth Schultz with R3 Consulting.

Margie Suozzo kicked things off with some history.

Soon after GreenTown Los Altos’ inception, its first big project was a look at the state of waste collection in Los Altos. The diversion rate of waste collected and diverted to recycling was a paltry 54%, and we knew we could do better. GreenTown studied it, published a “white paper” in 2008 and, working with the City, played a critical role in the selection of Mission Trail as the new waste hauler. Mission Trail introduced a simplified system that included composting and almost overnight, the diversion rate skyrocketed to 71%.

Margie also talked about GreenTown’s “waste” work with the schools. The schools use the waste hauler Recology, and their system is a bit different

Gary Hedden, Tim Giacomini, Arnold Ambiel


than Mission Trail’s. This can be confusing to the kids, but they are eager to please. It does take a lot of individual attention when we work with them at lunch time to make sure they know “what goes where” and we created some informative signs that help a lot.

Susanna Chan, Los Altos Director of Public Works was the next speaker. She explained that the contract with Mission Trail was executed in March 2010, and it

Arnold Ambiel helping Susanna Chan set up her presentation.


allows two possible extensions. The contract calls for 78% diversion, and the City has regular meetings with Mission Trail in an effort to achieve that number. The City hired a consultant, R3 Consulting Group, to write a new ordinance, recently adopted, to increase the diversion rate from construction and demolition debris.

Tim Giacomini with Mission Trail told us that State law AB 341 calls for 75% as the goal for diversion state-wide by 2020. He made the point that even at 70.2% (the rate last year), Los Altos is doing better than most cities in the Bay area, and he is convinced that 78% can be achieved. There are a small number of commercial accounts that are out of compliance, and many of the multi-family complexes have space constraints that make waste collection challenging. Mission Trail is working with these groups to come up with solutions. If all else fails, they may go to “back-end sorting.” Yes, that means put the garbage from these sources on a conveyor belt and hand pick to remove recyclable and compostable material. They have looked into this, and a carefully analyzed truck load had 31% paper, metal, plastic and glass and 27% food and yard waste. All of this has the potential to be usefully diverted.

Mission accomplished? Not quite, as Garth Schultz with R3 Consulting told us that some communities are thinking ahead to Vision Zero, no waste to the landfill at all. One important factor driving this goal is the lack of nearby

Garth Schultz


landfill capacity. Getting to zero will take regional cooperation at the municipal level and for us, as individuals, attention to the things we buy in the first place.

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P.O. Box 539, Los Altos, CA. 94023-0539