"People put funny things in the garbage," said Tim Argenti, general manager of Allied Waste, which provides garbage service in this area. "When we used to go in the back yards, sometimes there would be live chickens in the cans. Once there was an engine block stuffed in."
He said the focus is now on diversion and meeting rates set by the county and the state. Residential recycling is high in Danville, Argenti said, and it goes to a recycling plant in Benicia where it is sorted.
"Styrofoam (which cannot be recycled) is still a big issue," Argenti said. "The whole purpose is to become zero waste."
Last year, Allied Waste tested a food scraps program in some Danville neighborhoods. Residents were given small plastic cans, which they were advised to keep under their kitchens sinks, fill with table scraps and put into their green waste bins.
"The whole pilot program was a complete flop," said Shimansky, but he noted it was tried during hot weather when the food scraps quickly began to smell and attract vermin.
"A lot of people put the little containers into recycling," Argenti said.
Allied Waste is working on a diversion program for commercial food waste, he said, which is the biggest concern because residents use garbage disposals. Food waste does not decompose in the landfills because it receives no air or light, but a special program would dump it into a huge compost pile with the results sold as fertilizer.
East Bay Municipal Utilities District director John Coleman was also at the coffee, telling folks about the prospects of a drought after last winter's unusually low rainfall.
"We were asking for a 15 percent cutback in usage between April and October," he said. "That would cushion against having to go to rationing. We've had an 8 percent reduction so we're not meeting our goal."
He said EBMUD is having discussions with other water districts in Northern California about buying water. Also it has entered into a partnership with the Sacramento County Water Agency resulting in the Freeport Regional Water Project, which is scheduled for completion in fall 2010 and will help reduce rationing in drought years from 67 percent to 29 percent. EBMUD is also exploring desalinization, Coleman said.
"If we have to ration at 65 percent," he said, "it would have a $1.3 billion economic impact" in Contra Costa and Alameda counties.
He also discussed the three-tier billing system used by EBMUD.
"We used to have flat rates but during the last drought, in the early '90s, we wanted to put in tiers, to put the onus on the users," he recalled. For awhile EBMUD used five tiers, which he thought was too many.
Coleman also noted that drinking bottled water is an enormous waste of money and resources. He suggested refilling bottles from the tap.
"One bottled water company owned by Coca Cola uses EBMUD water," he said. "We have great water."
He also said that rebates are being offered up to $150 for replacing standard six-gallon toilets with 1.6-gallon, low-flow toilets. He said to check out the EBMUD Web site because only brands that have been proven to work well are approved for the rebate.
Shimansky hosts the informal coffees at 7:30 a.m. the first Friday of each month at Father Nature's on Prospect Avenue.