Composting halted at Wright Landfill

Residents should still sort their garbage

By Thaddeus Miller / tmiller@losbanosenterprise.comMarch 8, 2013 

Merced County authorities temporarily terminated all composting at the Billy Wright Landfill outside of Los Banos in September, resulting in green waste going to the landfill.

"It just makes it more cost-effective," said Jerry Lawrie, environmental research manager at Merced County Regional Waste Management Authority.

A memorandum from the Merced County Regional Waste Management Authority estimated the monthly dumping of green waste to be 30 tons of brush, 150 tons of self-hauled material and 400 tons of waste collected at the curb. It also estimated 35 tons of lumber has been stockpiled every month.

Billy Wright is one of two landfills in the county. Composting has continued at the other one -- the Highway 59 Landfill near Merced.

Lawrie said industrial processes like mulching and composting create volatile organic compounds, like nitrates, that need to be kept from ground and surface water. Keeping Billy Wright compliant with state regulations is too expensive for such a small landfill, Lawrie said. The Highway 59 Landfill is four times the size of Billy Wright.

Lawrie also added that "equipment for composting is extremely expensive."

A composting grinder is roughly $500,000, he said, and a trommel screen used for sorting is an estimated $320,000.

Los Banos residents pay a monthly fee of $32.36 for a 96-gallon blue recycling cart, a 96-gallon green waste cart and a 64-gallon gray trash can. The price goes up to $48.54 if a resident wants a 96-gallon gray can. The prices do not break down by individual can, according to Los Banos Accounting and Budget Supervisor Sonya Williams.

At $32.36 for three cans, residents pay about $10.80 per can. For the six months since green waste has been dumped into the landfill, each resident has paid about $64.80 for recycling that has not happened.

Lawrie said the issue is temporarily in limbo, as the Merced County Regional Waste Management Authority board mulls whether to truck Billy Wright green waste to the Highway 59 Landfill or a private dump. He said residents should continue to sort their waste despite the status of the landfill.

"The ultimate objective is to come up with a longer term plan," Lawrie said.

In the past, the finished compost from the waste material from landscapers and residential curbside collection programs has been sold in bulk to the public. Compost is still available for sale at both the Billy Wright and Highway 59 landfills. Billy Wright has leftover compost from when the program existed.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos

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