City re-ups with Alameda company for recycling, compost program work

Julie Reichle

Laura McKaughan with Piedmont Evergreen talking recycling with a resident at the April 2019 Climate Action Fair.

Saying they’ve been happy with recent local efforts to increase recycling and composting and to boost other environmentally friendly programs, Piedmont city council members voted last week to approve a second one-year contract with an Alameda-based environmental services company.

The council voted to approve a contract for up to $77,000 with Abbe & Associates LLC.

Council members said this effort is contributing significantly to the goals of the city’s Climate Action Plan — first adopted in 2010 and updated in 2018 — to guide the city in reducing the greenhouse gases it generates.

Assistant City Planner Chris Yeager told the council on May 6 that the recycling rate for waste produced at November’s Turkey Trot road race was 96 percent, and 87 percent for the Harvest Festival in September. Abbe & Associates, he and others said, was largely responsible for that.

Councilwoman Jen Cavanaugh asked that, given those and other successes, whether local recycling and composting efforts are hitting a plateau. Ruth Abbe, principal of Abbe & Associates, answered “no,” telling the council that Piedmont schools’ recycling stream has been analyzed and that there’s room for improving the district’s recycling rates.

Council members had several questions about recycling — the kinds of milk containers that are recyclable or compostible, what kinds of plastic are recyclable, the best methods of composting, how clean plastic has to be to be recycled successfully. Abbe had answers — milk cartons without the plastic spouts are most readily compostible; and the kinds of plastic that are practically recyclable has “been evolving.”

As for clean recyclables — increasingly an issue with China rejecting more and more American recyclables as not suitably clean — Abbe said recyclers “ask us to keep it as clean and dry as possible, to make it more marketable.” A good rinsing off, she said, is usually enough to make them acceptable.

Councilman Tim Rood said that home composting is the best approach to dealing with food scraps and other organic waste. Saving those scraps for a recycler would be the next best option, he said, especially if that recycler does efficient “carbon capture” from the process.

Abbe said there’s still much to be done to boost the local compost rate. “We still have a lot of food scraps in our trash,” she said.

One step the city has taken, Yeager said, is requiring groups that rent out city facilities to recycle and compost their waste.

City officials and representatives of Abbe & Associates said the next environment-related tasks include increasing engagement with schools, houses of worship, and families to improve recycling and composting participation; a more robust online presence for city recycling and waste reduction services; and to continue to build awareness of the “Piedmont Evergreen” campaign.

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