By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
The 40% food waste answer to recycling
Dennis Wyatt

Is the new blue orange?

Now that Manteca is facing garbage Armageddon given that easily half the volume we’ve been recycling in blue carts for two decades or more has been rendered useless due to countries that will no longer accept them above a certain percentage of contamination forcing the city to bury them instead, many of us are seeing red given the financial hit we’ll be taking.

We should be seeing orange instead.

Orange is the color of food waste recycling carts that have been deployed for more than a year to schools, restaurants, supermarkets and places that handle high volumes of food such as Doctors Hospital of Manteca.

Cities such as Manteca are under a state directive to eventually stop landfilling food waste. Manteca responded by thinking out of the box and addressing two big problems with one answer — recycling food waste combined with methane gas from the wastewater treatment process to produce compressed gas to power solid waste collection trucks.

The improvements are in the early stage of construction and will be ready to go in a year or so.

Meanwhile the city has been working diligently with large food waste generators to recycle food waste in orange carts that are then picked up. Some of it has been going to Lathrop to mix with green waste to generate compost but there is only so much food waste that process can use. The rest is being landfilled until Manteca’s food waste to fuel system is up and running. It’s a smart strategy as the “supply line” will be in place ready to go when the facility is completed.

This is important given the pending shifting of what is now garbage — all paper products, non-cardboard boxes, and such — to the brown cart so the city can stop landfilling “good” recyclables that includes corrugated cardboard and CRV cans and bottles that still have value.

A few years back a firm specializing in analyzing municipal waste streams was doing work for the city in advance of the current rate structure for the city being adopted. An audit of a number of brown carts pulled off the street on collection day for a thorough cataloguing of the contents stunned the solid waste professionals. Forty percent of the content of the brown carts were food waste.

If you could remove that 40 percent from brown carts and put them in new orange carts you’d make room to temporarily place recyclables that now have to be landfilled because an alternative domestic market hasn’t had time to take hold.

Switching residential to orange carts has always been a possibility that could occur after the low hanging fruit in the form of schools, restaurants, and supermarkets was picked. Even then the city would have options such as separating food waste from garbage at a transfer station or going to orange carts. And while the city isn’t now charging for commercial orange cart service they have always said that is a strong possibility considering costs involved.

The pending recycling change won’t involve a rate increase. But the city does expect upwards of half of Manteca’s 23,000 households may have to switch to a larger brown cart or add a second brown cart which will increase their monthly solid waste bills. There is also a $51.75 change our charge per cart to consider. 

By burying all recyclables as they have been now forced to do the city is incurring a $52 per ton cost they did not pay before and was never factored into the rate schedule. As a result the solid waste division account is bleeding. If the city buried 10,000 tons a year of recyclables, that’s a $520,000 annual hole in the budget that keeps growing.

Timing is everything but would it make sense for the city to try launching residential orange cart  service years ahead of time? If they could get part of it up and running in six months, to start clearing out space in the brown carts for items that can no longer be placed in the blue carts starting in January, it would ease the bleeding somewhat as the city would not be burying the cardboard and the CRV containers. Granted, they will have to bury the orange cart contents until the food waste to fuel is up and running. However, if we are taking about an 18-month gap until things are up and running Manteca could take a lemon and make lemon-aid by getting way ahead of the food waste curve.

There are drawbacks. It would take time and expense to rollout. Some users, such as 35-gallon brown cart households likely won’t generate enough  food waste that they can clear space from the brown cart to make room for the items that can no longer be recycled.

But if you give at least the 96-gallon brown cart customers the option to take an orange cart to avoid having to literally double their monthly solid waste bill by adding a second brown cart you can ease the pain while snagging the biggest residential generators of food waste. Again for 18 months or so you’ll be burying that orange waste but when the food waste to fuel is ready to go the landfilling of it ends.

As for other users they wouldn’t have to monkey with complying with food waste rules but if they can’t get the ex-recyclables in their brown carts they will have a somewhat less expensive monthly upgrade charge to a larger cart. It would probably tolerable for such users if the city dropped the $51.75 change out charge.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.