The third grader was about to drop a partially eaten corn dog into the white trash can with bright orange letters.
Jazzy Bland stopped him, took the corn dog, pulled it off the stick, tossed the leftover food in the white and orange trash can and then put the stick in a separate trash can.
Nothing got by Bland or her co-volunteer for the Thursday lunch hour at Woodward School — fellow fifth grader Kaelyn Loureriro.
The two are on the vanguard of the next big recycling trend in Manteca — separating food waste.
Woodward is the latest school to separate food waste from the rest of their lunchtime trash. Joshua Cowell and Brock Elliott School were the first. By the end of the school year it’ll be the standard procedure at all Manteca Unified campuses including those in Lathrop, Stockton, French Camp and rural Manteca.
“They (Harvest Power in Lathrop that is accepting the food waste for compost) can’t believe how clean it is,” noted City of Manteca Solid Waste Supervisor Rexie LeStrange.
She was told by recycling experts to expect a high rate of contamination from what is collected in school cafeterias. That isn’t the case in Manteca Unified given the fact the school district has bought into the program 100 percent prompting them to assign student volunteers to watch over the food waste recycling process.
Students on Thursday were recycling like clockwork. They’d take their trays and shake leftover mashed potatoes and fruit into the white and orange trash cans and then walk to the next set of garbage can to toss in their napkins, utensils and any paper waste before taking their Styrofoam plates for placing in a stacking device.
Occasionally a student would accidently drop trash in with the food waste. The fifth graders quickly picked it out. And when some students had unwanted food packed with a lunch they brought to school that was in a separate sealed bag and not opened, the two fifth graders would rip open the bags, dump the contents in the food waste can and then toss the container in the trash.
In a typical week, the three schools recycle a ton of food waste. It is placed in locked bins that are picked up twice a week.
Food waste is the last frontier to make a major dent in diverting garbage that 25 years ago was buried in landfills to a second life through recycling. Fifteen years ago the city was recycling 18 percent of its garbage. Today Manteca is at the 52 percent mark. Once the food waste recycling is in place citywide Manteca expects to be recycling 75 percent of the solid waste the community generates.
For now the food waste is going to make compost. But in about 18 months it will be processed in a state-of-the-art facility at the municipal wastewater treatment plan where it will be combined with solid waste from that process to create clean burning fuel to power Manteca’s new natural gas burning solid waste collection trucks.
While all cities and counties need to start recycling food waste under state mandate, Manteca is one of the first to go a step further and combine it with solid waste from wastewater to convert it into fuel to power vehicles.
Manteca actually will eventually be accepting food waste for Tracy and other jurisdictions in San Joaquin County.
The goal — besides complying with the mandate — is to keep solid waste costs down as well as reduce air pollution and the cost of operating the city’s fleet of nearly two dozen solid waste costs.
One aspect of the school recycling program does concern LeStrange.
“We don’t expect the food waste to be nearly as clean when we start it at the high schools,” LeStrange said.
Solid Waste Manager Jeremy Kline chalks that expectation up to the high school lunch service being more free form and the age of the students.
Food-4-Less along with the International House of Pancakes in the next few weeks will be the first businesses to participate in the food waste recycling program.
LeStrange said the roll-out is being done geographically. That means commercial accounts round Spreckels Park will be first as they are on routes now serving the three schools. The next schools are will include the Shasta and Lincoln elementary campuses.’
Commercial accounts being targeted are restaurants, supermarkets and places such as hospitals.
Ultimately the food waste that’s in residential garbage will be recycled as well. That will be done, however, from a machine that will separate the residential trash that’s dumped into it at the Lovelace Transfer Station. Once separated, the food waste will be trucked to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
Manteca and other California cities must reduce the food waste they bury by 50 percent by 2018 under state law. Food waste — based on a survey made of random residential brown Toters switched out on a collection day that had their contents shifted through by hand — constitutes 35 percent of Manteca’s garbage. While that seems high it is below the state average for food waste in garbage at 40 percent.
Effective recycling programs and various cost-saving efficiencies that the city has put in place such as hybrid powered trucks as well as having a front-line crew of drivers always looking for ways to reduce expenses has allowed Manteca to go 13 plus years without a solid waste hike. It is an unmatched record for the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
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