Merced County authorities are trying to figure out how to use green waste at the Billy Wright Road Landfill outside of Los Banos.
The material has not been composted since September 2012 due to environmental requirements. Until mid-2013, green waste was being placed in the landfill. Since August 2013, green waste has been used to cover the landfill instead of soil.
Yet residents of Los Banos and the Westside have continued to pay for composting. Los Banos residents pay $36.01 a month for a 96-gallon blue recycling cart, a 96-gallon green waste cart and a 64-gallon gray trash can. The price is $54.02 if the 54-gallon trash can is replaced with a 96-gallon gray can. The prices do not break down by individual can, however residents pay about $12 per can. For the 23 months since composting ended, each resident has paid about $276.
Now lower-cost composting and turning green waste into fuel are being explored.
According to Merced County Regional Waste Management Authority officials, industrial processes like mulching and composting create volatile organic compounds, like nitrates, that must be kept from ground and surface water. Keeping Billy Wright compliant with state regulations is too expensive for such a small landfill, waste management officials say.
The county’s second landfill on Highway 59 near Merced is four times the size of Billy Wright and does compost green waste.
Jerry Lawrie, environmental research manager at the Regional Waste Management Authority, said that a “lower-tech” method of composting is being tested at the Highway 59 Landfill.
“We want to reduce use of grinders and change when we compost raw materials,” Lawrie said. “We want to reduce heavy equipment 30 (percent) to 40 percent.”
Lawrie said if the experiment works the method could be used at Billy Wright, allowing composting to resume. However, he said, composting at Billy Wright is not a top priority.
“It’s not dead; it’s just not alive,” Lawrie said.
He said the most pressing matter is balancing revenues and expenditures.
Brooks Stayer, director of the Regional Waste Management Authority, ordered tarps or green waste to cover garbage each nightto save on landfill space, which can be sold to other cities.
Stayer agreed that finances are the top concern.
“We’re dealing with a $50 million deficit, a $20 million environmental liability and a $30 million bond. (And) we were losing $700,000 a year,” Stayer said.
He said it will be three more months to determine if the low-tech composting approach will work. In the meantime, Stayer said he plans to ask the Merced County Association of Governments to let him apply for a $4 million grant from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. The money would be used for a machine that turns organic material into fuel. The deadline to apply is this month.
Merced County Supervisor Jerry O’Banion said he does not believe recycling fees should be refunded to residents.
“Whether it’s composted or not, it’s being recycled,” O’Banion said, “the green waste decomposes, the dirt doesn’t.”
Lawrie said the recycling fees in place do not cover the costs. He said residents should be paying about $30 for recycling, but the MCAG Board of Directors declined to impose such an increase.
Stayer said he is also not in favor of a refund.
“I would say no,” Stayer said. “If we didn’t do what we’re doing, it would cost you more. We are beneficially using it (green waste).”
O’Banion spoke with the Enterprise after his initial telephone interview and said the city of Los Banos, not MCAG, would make the decision of whether a refund is handed out to the city’s citizens.
Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 826-3831 ext. 6563 or by email at cpride@losbanos enterprise.com.