The PEC Compost Program

To minimize the Pacific Energy Center's off-site energy use and environmental impact, we use exclusively biodegradable products to serve refreshments. All waste generated by food service is collected as compost by Golden Gate Disposal and Recycling. Golden Gate sends it to the Jepson Prairie Organics Composting Facility near Vacaville, CA where it becomes organic fertilizer for Bay Area farms and gardens. Compost use is linked to reduced use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, improving the health of Bay Area waterways and locally-grown produce.


Purpose

Before we initiated this program, the Pacific Energy Center was recycling cans, bottles and mixed paper. Through these efforts, we were recycling approximately 40% of our waste, however, 60% was still going into trash bins. By using biodegradable products, we have reduced our trash to less than 30% of our total waste, we are composting over 30% and we continue to recycle 40%. With increased vigilance, we expect to increase the amount diverted away from landfills from the present 75% to at least 85%. In an average week, we compost over 200 gallons of organic refuse, keeping it out of landfills and incinerators.

The image to the right shows the results of our first large lunch meeting served with biodegradable products. The larger bag on the right is a cornstarch-based bag containing biodegradable items that were sent to compost. The smaller bag on the left contains a substantially reduced volume of trash. Previously, both bags would have been trash.

To be viable, this program had to be cost-effective. Some of the biodegradable products we chose are less expensive than what we previously used (for example, the paper cups cost 3.71 cents each, compared with 4.07 cents for plastic), and some cost more (for example, the biodegradable forks cost 2.4 cents each, compared with 1.98 cents each for plastic), averaging out to an additional monthly cost of $57. However, our disposal/recycling company's fee for compost collection is 25% less than for garbage, saving us $195/month. Thus, the additional product cost is more than offset by garbage collection fee savings, and our composting program results in a net savings to the Energy Center of around $138/month. Note: Recyclables are collected free of charge, so we enjoy even greater savings with our complete recycle/compost program.


Products

The biodegradable products we chose are shown below. Not pictured are wooden coffee stirrers and sandwich toothpicks, both of which are compostable. Most of these items are replacing standard plastic and styrofoam versions.

Sysco CupsChinet PlatesNat-ur CutleryEcoSafe Bags
Paper95% Recycled PaperCorn-based Plastic (shown on paper napkin)Polyethylene w/ Degradation Additive

The products above were chosen because they best fit the Energy Center's specific needs. In our research, we found that there are several other biodegradable food service products commonly available.

Next Steps:

To initiate a composting program at your San Francisco restaurant, school, office or other commercial building, contact Golden Gate Disposal and Recycling Co. at 415-626-4000.