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FoodCycle

FoodCycle is Sunnyvale’s new food scraps collection service provided to all single-family homes in the city. The innovative program uses a split cart to collect food on one side and garbage on the other. The program seeks to reduce the amount of food scraps sent to the landfill which in turn helps meet the greenhouse gas reduction goals in the City’s Zero Waste Strategic Plan and Climate Action Plan.

Learn what items can and cannot go in the FoodCycle cart

Progress

FoodCycle Survey: We Asked, You Answered, We Hear You

Since the FoodCycle program was first rolled out in January 2018, Sunnyvale has reduced the tons of garbage going to landfill by 18 percent. As the City gets closer to meeting its zero waste goals, we wanted to know what residents thought about the FoodCycle program.

We Asked

In June 2019, we sent a FoodCycle survey to 3,200 randomly selected single-family households. The survey asked how often residents participated, how full their carts were and what people liked and didn’t like about the program. We received responses from 40 percent and compiled them into a report.

You Answered

The survey results highlighted that:

  • Most of you (75% of households) participate at least once a month.
  • You’re most confused about whether tea bags, coffee filters, cooking oil and bacon grease belong in the food side of the cart.
  • Your motivation for participating is reducing waste sent to the landfill, followed by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Your top-rated concerns are about hygiene (dirty cart, odors and attracting pests).
  • Your biggest frustration is with the cart design – specifically, the food side is too large and the garbage side is too small.

Some of the most exciting feedback we’ve received is how your behavior has changed since FoodCycle started. Most of you feel more aware about food waste now, especially wasted produce. We’re proud that Sunnyvale residents don’t want to be wasteful.

We Hear You

We value the input you gave us on the FoodCycle program and will address it throughout 2020 in the following ways:

  • More targeted outreach about which side of the FoodCycle cart items like tea bags, coffee filters, cooking oil and bacon grease belong.
  • Tips and tricks about keeping your FoodCycle cart clean and separating your food scraps in the kitchen.
  • A FoodCycle toolkit that will help new residents start recycling their food scraps right away.
  • A retrofit to the largest FoodCycle cart to reduce the food scraps side and expand the garbage side.

And finally, we’d like to share an exciting development. We are now sending our processed food scraps to the adjacent Water Pollution Control Plant where they will generate energy in a digester to help power that facility. This will reduce energy costs at the Plant as well as the environmental footprint from transporting food scraps to the previous location in Santa Clara where they were made into an animal feed ingredient. 

Q&A

Read answers to frequently asked questions about FoodCycle; a few of the most common questions are below.

Why not collect food scraps with yard trimmings or in a separate container?

Food scraps composting capacity in and near the Bay Area is very limited. It is also expensive and difficult to permit new facilities that compost food, whether mixed with yard trimmings or not. Combining food scraps with yard trimmings in Sunnyvale would generate 20,000 tons of material and there are no facilities available to take that quantity. Keeping the food scraps separate from yard trimmings enables more options for reuse, whether processed into animal feed or used in anaerobic digestion for energy. If we used a separate container for food scraps, the extra trucks and carts needed would increase collection costs and cause additional wear and tear on the streets from collection truck traffic. Residents would also have to store four carts instead of three.

Is the food scraps program available to businesses, schools and residents of apartments?

Businesses and schools are required by a mandatory food scraps collection law, Assembly Bill 1826, to separate and recycle their organics. The City has been collecting food scraps from businesses for more than five years; the program collects over 3,000 tons per year and is growing steadily as more businesses are added. Most Sunnyvale public schools and many private schools also are recycling their food scraps in their kitchens and cafeterias and many schools have active student “Green Teams” that assist with keeping the material free of contaminants.

All homes receiving single-family cart service, including townhomes with that service, are included in the FoodCycle program. Apartments with “bin” service are not currently included in the program; however, a *drop-off option for residents of apartments and condominiums in Sunnyvale is available at the SMaRT Station Recycling Center.

  • There is no charge to drop-off. 
  • Bag all items in clear plastic bags or compostable bags.

If you live in an apartment or condo, you may pick up a countertop pail for food scrap collection at the SMaRT Station office or Utilities counter at City Hall. Bring proof of residency to receive a pail.

 

*For details see the Program tab

What happens to the food scraps once they are collected?

Currently, food scraps are being used primarily as an energy source for the Sunnyvale Water Pollution Control Plant. After being unloaded and pre-processed at the SMaRT Station, the food scraps are converted to a liquid “mash” and delivered down the road to the Plant. There they are pumped into anaerobic digesters and converted into energy to help power that facility.

At times (e.g., if the Plant's anaerobic digester is at capacity), the vendor takes the mash to Sustainable Organic Solutions in Santa Clara where it is made into an animal food ingredient. The mash is sterilized, dehydrated and made into a dry food product. Before being shipped to hog farmers, each batch is tested to confirm it meets federal Food and Drug Administration requirements. The material may not be fed to cows or any species other than pigs, poultry and fish.

Why is the food scraps side of the cart so large?

At the City's request, Specialty Solid Waste worked with the cart and truck manufacturers to test several designs, including (1) making the food side of the cart narrower and (2) angling the cart divider to increase the capacity of the garbage side. The first design caused garbage to fall into and contaminate the food scraps side of the truck. The second resulted in bagged garbage failing to fall out of the cart during collection. The current cart design enables both compartments to empty reliably into the correct sides of the truck. Even so, the City and Specialty continue to work with the cart manufacturer to find other methods for reduce the size of the food scraps compartment.

Is it ok to put food scraps in a plastic bag?

Yes. In fact, you have several options: 1) use purchased compostable bags; 2) reuse produce, bread or other plastic bags if they are clear (not opaque); or 3) line your countertop pail or wrap your food scraps in newspaper. The plastic and paper will get screened out when the food scraps are pre-processed, so they will not impact the final product. We have confirmed that Costco and Amazon carry both compostable and clear bags in the three-gallon size that fit the City-issued pail.

More FoodCycle tips

Is this program costing or saving the City money? If it’s saving money, will residents see a reduction in rates?

The City pays our vendor to turn the food scraps into a mash so there is a cost associated with processing. However, by keeping the material out of the landfill, we save money by eliminating SMaRT Station® processing and landfill disposal costs. The resulting net operational savings will help moderate garbage rates in the future.

Purpose

The FoodCycle program is a part of the Zero Waste Strategic Plan (ZWSP), adopted by the Council in 2013. The ZWSP set goals to divert 70 percent of solid waste by 2015 and 75 percent by 2020. In 2013, Sunnyvale’s official diversion rate was 65 percent.

The FoodCycle program was selected for the following reasons:

  • A waste composition study showed that food scraps were by far the largest remaining component of Sunnyvale garbage and made up 33 percent of residential garbage. Thus, diverting food scraps from both residential customers and business sources will result in an immediate improvement to the diversion rate.
  • The City’s Climate Action Plan aims to reduce Sunnyvale’s emissions of greenhouse gases. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is produced when food and other organics decompose under the anaerobic conditions found in solid waste landfills. Capturing food scraps prior to being land-filled helps to reduce methane generation and overall greenhouse gas emissions.
  • At the State level, SB 1383 (2016) set state-level goals of reducing landfill disposal of organics by 50 percent by 2020 and 75 percent (from a 2014 baseline) by 2025. The State is now developing regulations to implement these goals. The FoodCycle program puts Sunnyvale ahead of the curve with an organic diversions solution that is both cost effective and innovative.

Businesses must already comply with state-mandated food scraps diversion requirements contained in AB 1826 (2014). Collections of commercial food scraps from restaurants, corporate cafeterias, groceries, schools, etc. in Sunnyvale began in 2011. This helped to increase diversion to 66.6 percent in 2017. The residential FoodCycle program is expected to increase diversion by an additional 1.5%, taking the total from 66.6 percent in 2017 to 68.1 percent in 2018.

Program

Single-family homes: In 2016, City Council approved a citywide roll-out of food scraps service after a successful pilot program was effective in gaining high levels of resident participation (73 percent) and capture of available food scraps (62 percent). The implementation began in September 2017 and was completed by January 2018.

Program details:

  • Each single-family and mobile home park household uses a split cart for food scraps and garbage collection.
  • Households may also use a City-issued counter-top pail to make separation more convenient, or use a container of their own.
  • Using clear plastic pail liners is encouraged to keep the pail clean and reduce odors. Clear bags such as bread or produce bags can be used; compostable bags are not required.

Residents empty food scraps into the yellow, food side of the cart, and put garbage in the black, garbage side of the cart. A split-body truck collects the cart and empties the contents into separate compartments in the truck. The food scraps are brought to the SMaRT Station® where they are pre-processed into a liquid mash and pumped into a tanker truck. The truck then delivers them either to the Water Pollution Control Plant next door for anaerobic digestion which generates energy for the Plant, or to Sustainable Organic Solutions in Santa Clara where they are made into an animal food ingredient.

Multi-family housing: In November 2018, a drop-off option for residents of apartments and condominiums in Sunnyvale was made available at the SMaRT Station Recycling Center.

  • There is no charge to drop-off.
  • Bag all items in clear plastic bags or compostable bags.

If you live in an apartment or condo, you may pick up a countertop pail for food scrap collection at the SMaRT Station office or Utilities counter at City Hall. Bring proof of residency to receive a pail.

Documents

Last Updated: Dec 4, 2019
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