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Thursday, Dec 1, 2022
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Recycling Goes Organic

A state law that went into effect this spring requiring companies to recycle their food waste has already started feeding more business to Ecco-Technologies in Calabasas. The 10-year-old seller of food recycling systems has seen sales and inquiries swell since April. That’s when the first of several new organic waste recycling mandates that affect businesses took effect. And there are more regulations to come. As a result, any business operation that handles food and other organic waste – landscaping, pruning, food-soiled paper – has to either recycle the waste itself or have it recycled. That means the operation can no longer combine its waste to have it hauled to a landfill. The new regulations aim to keep decomposing waste and the greenhouse gases it releases out of landfills. The law affects supermarkets, restaurants, food processors, bakeries and schools and universities, to name a few. There are some exceptions, such as multifamily complexes with four or less units. Large facilities are the first that have to comply but by January, smaller companies and organizations will have to as well. At Ecco-Technologies, installations of its food recyclers are up 25 percent, said company founder Derek Tabak, and inquiries have risen 35 percent. To handle the demand, Tabak plans to double his staff and the number of environmental consultants he uses. “AB 1826 (the recycling bill) is a wake-up call,” Tabak said. “It’s been very good for our business.” Compliance choices California’s aggressive goal to reduce the waste that clogs landfills and expels methane and other greenhouse gases was the impetus for Assembly Bill 1826, which was signed into law in 2014. The bill stated that as of April, businesses and organizations that generate 8 cubic yards a week or more of organic waste have to be responsible for getting the waste recycled. In January, the amount lowers to 4 cubic yards. By 2019, the requirements expand to solid waste rather than just organic waste, and by 2020, the amount of waste affected lowers to 2 cubic yards if this and other efforts to meet the state’s organic waste disposal goals fall short. Cities are also included, and were required to put in place organic waste recycling programs in January. Tabak’s food waste recycling systems offer one of the allowed choices under law, namely on-site recycling. Companies can also separate organic waste themselves and have a service take it away for recycling, or take it themselves to a waste recycler. Hauling food waste could be an onerous new cost for businesses and organizations that aren’t already doing it, Tabak said. Those paying now for that service – large waste producers like shopping malls and supermarkets – can spend between $125,000 to $250,000 a year, he explained. Large restaurants can spend $15,000 to $25,000. “My first question (to potential customers), is “What do you pay for hauling?” Tabak said. “Haulers can separate stuff, but it’s not free. And they love this (bill) because it’s going to make them more money.” Ecco-Technologies sells about 15 different systems that recycle food and other organic waste on the premises. The average system costs $100,000, but they run between $35,000 to $1 million-plus, Tabak said “Return on investment is one to three years on any waste reduction system,” Tabak explained, because in most cases, once businesses buy recycling systems, they no longer have to pay for hauling and recycling, or pay significantly less. Most food producers use food compactors, or giant bins, Tabak said, and have to pay for leasing them, their maintenance, to have them hauled away to be emptied and other related charges. Recycling the food significantly reduces the weight and the bins would not have to be hauled away as often, he added. “There’s your money savings,” Tabak said. The most popular of the Ecco-Technologies systems for entities in cities and tight suburban settings are either food dehydrators or digesters. Dehydrators can be as small as a home clothes dryer and the end-product is a dry powder that can be added to soil to make it more fertile. Central New Mexico Community College keeps its dehydrator in the dining room, next to where students eat, Tabak said. Digesters grind the food to break it down, and produce a nontoxic, odor-free liquid that can be discharged into grease traps – or underground tanks – found behind restaurants, Tabak said. Or, it can go into the sewer system. “Food is 75 percent water, which is dissolved, and the water that comes out of this is recycled back into the grinding and auger system, so it uses very little fresh water,” he said. Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles uses four Ecco-Technologies’ dehydrators and a pulper to process the waste from 10,000 meals a day. Other clients include Golden Corral restaurants, commercial bakeries and other large food processors. Ramping up Ecco-Technologies is a small business, so to handle potential influx from the new mandates, it needs to get bigger quickly. Tabak wants to double his staff to 12 from the six he currently employs. He hopes to hire project managers with environmental backgrounds and mechanical and technical types with construction or manufacturing experience. He knows it’s going to be a challenge. “There’s a limited pool for people with that skill level,” he said. Plus, there’s competition from other industries also pursuing these candidates, he added. He also wants to double the number of consultants to around 30 that the company works with, and update the Ecco-Technologies website and social media content. Finally, Tabak recently met with waste recycling system manufacturers to learn how much they can ramp up production, and how quickly. He said he will have to “participate” in helping them do that but wouldn’t disclose exactly how. “We’re not the only state in the country that has put laws into place on (not) ferrying organics to landfills,” Tabak said. “There’s a sort of wake-up call to producers of organics that something is changing and it’s time for us to move along with the changes.”

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