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Turning food waste into fuel
Powering garbage trucks with garbage
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Spoiled food and table scraps you toss into your brown Toter will eventually help fuel the City of Manteca refuse trucks that collect your garbage, recyclables and yard waste.

Manteca is taking advantage of its unique position of being the only city in San Joaquin County to collect its own garbage plus having the area’s most advanced state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant with built in capacity to make a state mandate to divert landfill waste one that benefits the city’s bottom line.

Assembly Bill 1826 ultimately prohibits the burying of food waste in landfills. An audit conducted by dumping the contents of Toters and dumpster out on large canvases and shifting through it — shows that 40 percent of Manteca’s 48,000 tons of garbage that is collected and buried at the landfill on Austin Road is food waste.

Manteca has a fleet of 30 refuse collection trucks. They are in the process of replacing five of them. When the order is placed they will be fueled with compressed natural gas.

Because the city’s wastewater treatment plant has two digesters plus other cutting edge equipment, the food scraps could be processed through part of the plant to create   gas. The city also would be able to combine that with the methane gas that the plant currently generates from treating 6.5 million gallons of wastewater a day to provide fuel. The process also will help bring the city into compliance with air quality standards by eliminating burning off methane gas.

Deputy Director of Public Works-Utility Services John Clymo told Manteca Rotarians meeting at Ernie’s Thursday that the 30 truck garbage fleet burns through 1,000 gallons of diesel a day. The conversion process the city is working on would generate 600 gallons of fuel.

The city plans to purchase compressed natural gas for the new trucks from a facility Lathrop built just down Yosemite Avenue until such time as the treatment plant is set up to take food scraps. And when it does come on line sometime in the next two years, the Lathrop facility will be able to cover any gap in fuel production.

Meanwhile, Manteca is working with Tracy in a deal to swap recyclables with that city’s food waste. That would help Tracy meet the new state mandate. It would cost Manteca $200,000 worth of recyclables that thieves don’t manage to steal from Toters each year.

Manteca is also in talks with San Joaquin County to utilize the Lovelace Transfer Station north of the city to accept food waste from other cities within the county. There it would have non-food items sorted out such as plastic utensils.

By April 2016, the state requires all sources that produce 8 cubic yards or more of food waste such as schools, hospitals, and stores that toss out spoiled produce to no longer be landfilled. By January 2017, that threshold dips down to four cubic yards or more. At that point it starts to cover almost all food stores plus some restaurants. By January 2019 the threshold drops to 2 cubic yards to take in all restaurants.

Ultimately all residential food waste would have to be diverted from landfills as well.

The city already has been in contact with Manteca Unified School District and hospitals about the food waste diversion program.

Clymo noted the city is confident the new system can be instituted with little or no rate increase. By comparison, those cities that have turned over the collection of their solid waste to firms and don’t have the trucks and facilities to implement a program will have to rely on private contractors or partnerships with cities such as Manteca.

Clymo noted in all likelihood that will mean a jump in rates for those cities. Manteca hasn’t raised garbage rates for more than seven years — a claim that other jurisdictions in San Joaquin County cannot make.