Turn­ing ton of daily school food waste into bio­gas fuel

Manteca Bulletin - - Front Page - By DEN­NIS WY­ATT

A typ­i­cal Man­teca Uni­fied School District stu­dent gen­er­ates roughly 1.75 ounces of food waste a day when they are done with lunch.

Mul­ti­ply that by 24,000 stu­dents, and it comes to 1.06 tons on any given school day.

While that sounds like a stag­ger­ing amount it trans­lates into just 70 pounds per cam­pus per school day.

“One and three quar­ter ounces per stu­dent struck me as an aw­ful lot of waste,” noted Patti Page who serves as the Man­teca Uni­fied di­rec­tor of nu­tri­tional ser­vices.

But af­ter fur­ther in­ves­ti­gat­ing it didn’t seem that bad.

Page soon found out an ap­ple core tossed into the or­ange carts set aside for food waste came to three quar­ters of an ounce. A typ­i­cal ba­nana peel weighs an ounce.

“That fig­ure (1.75 ounces) in­cludes all stu­dents, even those who bring their own lunch,” Page said.

In­ter­est in food waste has picked up since

the City of Man­teca started rolling out its food waste col­lec­tion pro­gram as the first step to­ward con­vert­ing what food Man­teca res­i­dents toss out into bio­gas to fuel mu­nic­i­pal refuse col­lec­tion trucks.

Man­teca Uni­fied has em­braced the city ef­fort whole heart­edly to the point they want all of the district’s schools — in­clud­ing those in Lathrop, French Camp, We­ston Ranch, and French Camp as well as Nile Gar­den and New Haven — to par­tic­i­pate. The city is work­ing with Al­lied Waste Man­age­ment, the pri­vate con­trac­tor that serves those ar­eas, to ei­ther col­lect the or­ange food waste carts or have Man­teca trucks do it.

“We want all of our stu­dents to par­tic­i­pate re­gard­less of where they are at,” Page said.

Cur­rently all ele­men­tary school cam­puses within the city lim­its of Man­teca are par­tic­i­pat­ing. Page said her staff is still try­ing to de­ter­mine how to roll the food waste col­lec­tion pro­gram out at Man­teca, East Union and Sierra high schools. It is more prob­lem­atic as each cam­pus has mul­ti­ple places serv­ing food.

The city started im­ple­ment­ing its food waste pro­grams at Man­teca schools back in Au­gust given their vol­ume plus the track record they have of em­brac­ing re­cy­cling. Man­teca, as well as other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, is work­ing to meet a state man­date to di­vert food waste from be­ing buried at land­fills.

Stu­dent vol­un­teers in school lunch rooms help mon­i­tor carts to make sure garbage and food waste are sep­a­rated by fel­low stu­dents as they clear their plates or dump left­overs from home lunches. The carts used are filled only a third of the way due to the dense weight of food waste. That al­lows eas­ier and safer han­dling by the school cus­to­dial staff.

Rexie LeS­trange, the City of Man­teca’s solid waste di­vi­sion man­ager, has lauded the schools for col­lect­ing food waste that “is ex­cep­tion­ally clean” mean­ing it is not con­tam­i­nated with other garbage.

Food waste cur­rently col­lected from schools as well as restau­rants and gro­cery stores where the city has as­signed or­ange carts is be­ing taken to a Lathrop site where it is com­bined with green waste from yards to make com­post.

In roughly two years it will be taken to a con­ver­sion fa­cil­ity at the mu­nic­i­pal wastew­a­ter treat­ment plant and con­verted into bio­gas.

The Man­teca bio­gas pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity will also use fats, oils, and grease — known as FOG — gen­er­ated from cook­ing that is now be­ing shipped to the Bay Area for re­cy­cling.

Man­teca Uni­fied won’t be a big con­trib­u­tor to FOG re­cy­cling.

“We (Man­teca Uni­fied) changed the way we cook years ago so it is done in a health­ier man­ner,” Page said.

Man­teca’s wastew­a­ter treat­ment plant-bio­gas fa­cil­ity could be­come a re­gional hub for other ci­ties that need to re­cy­cle food waste.

If that hap­pens and Man­teca Uni­fied moves to­ward buses that are fu­eled by com­pressed nat­u­ral gasses to keep up with ever tight­en­ing San Joaquin Val­ley air pol­lu­tion stan­dards, it’s not out of the pos­si­bil­ity that some­day the food waste Man­teca Uni­fied stu­dents re­cy­cle will power the school buses they ride.

“That would be in­ter­est­ing,” Page said of the pos­si­bil­ity.

For now the city ex­pects food waste col­lec­tion once it is im­ple­mented city­wide at com­mer­cial ven­tures, schools, and hos­pi­tals will pro­duce enough fuel for 20 plus refuse col­lec­tion trucks and have enough left over for some sales to the pub­lic to fuel their CNG pow­ered ve­hi­cles.

Even­tu­ally food waste re­cy­cling will get down to the res­i­den­tial level.

An au­dit of brown carts two years ago shows 40 per­cent of what Man­teca res­i­dents throw out is food waste.

Page said the school dis­tricts is still work­ing on find­ing a re­cy­cler that will take the Sty­ro­foam cubes cre­ated ev­ery day when used food plates are col­lected and com­pressed. Sev­eral school sites crush the plates so they don’t take up vol­ume in garbage bins which in turn would re­sult in higher charges at the school district for refuse col­lec­tion.

To con­tact Den­nis Wy­att, email dwy­att@man­te­cab­ul­letin.com

ROMERO/Bul­letin file photo

HIME The or­ange col­lec­tion bin that food waste is dumped into af­ter it is col­lected.

HIME ROMERO/Bul­letin file photo

Stu­dent vol­un­teers help make sure food waste is kept clean when fel­low stu­dents toss out left­overs af­ter they are fin­ished with lunch.

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