Not to be outdone by their North County counterparts, who recycle sewage into drinking water through the revolutionary Groundwater Replenishment System, South County communities are banding together to turn food waste into compost.
While the regional pilot program sounds meritorious, one thing about it seemingly stinks: the waste will be trucked all the way to Thermal, south of Indio in Riverside County, for composting. Surely there are closer composters that can keep the work local and avoid all those truck emissions back and forth between Thermal and San Clemente, Laguna Niguel, Aliso Viejo and, possibly, Dana Point, Laguna Hills, San Juan Capistrano, Rancho Santa Margarita, Tustin and Rossmoor.
Apparently there are not.
"The only 'nearby' facilities that I'm aware of that are approved to accept food waste are in Bakersfield, Victorville and Thermal," replied Tom Bonigut, San Clemente's assistant city engineer who runs the regional program, in an email to the Weekly.
While there are "green" composting operations in Fullerton, Garden Grove, Irvine/East Orange, the Orange County Great Park and just beyond OC in Chino and Carona, it is Bonigut's understanding that none are permitted to accept food waste.
"So, for the one-year pilot program we'll take it to Thermal, but if a closer facility gets permitted for food waste we'd use that," he wrote. "As for the hauling, CR&R (a partner in the pilot program) is the one that will be taking the collected food waste to the Thermal facility."
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Stanton-based CR&R collects waste at residences and businesses throughout Southern California, including many OC cities that have joined or are considering the regional food waste program, and sends the refuse on to recycling facilities.
"I totally agree with you on keep things as local as possible," Bonigut wrote. "The purpose of our pilot program is to test the concept and see what works and what doesn't so we can hopefully craft a feasible and sensible long-term program."
Sounds like a future opportunity for an entrepreneurial Orange County composter to wrangle away that Thermal-bound food waste.
There is a mountain of it, after all. According to an Orange County Register report, Aliso Viejo alone hopes to turn some of the 3.3 tons of food waste the top five restaurants in town produce every week into compost through the program, which is made possible through a grant of up to $400,000 from the Orange County Waste & Recycling Department.