Danville Councilwoman Candace Andersen, a member of the Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority, said that the program seems to be working well and may be enlarged to encompass more restaurants.
"It's a great way to take care of some of this waste that would end up in the landfill," she said.
CCCSWA Senior Program Manager Bart Carr said the pilot program currently has 45 restaurants participating. He explained that the restaurants are located primarily in Walnut Creek since that is on the pickup route for Allied Waste Haulers.
The way the program works, said Carr, is that food is gathered in special bins in the kitchen, then taken outside to a can that is picked up by the waste hauler. It is first taken to a facility in Milpitas where it is ground up, then it goes to the East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD) facility in Oakland.
"It goes into the digesters," stated Carr. "It is digested anaerobically along with the bio-solids from EBMUD to produce methane. The methane is then captured and sent to two large turbines which burn the gas to provide power to the plant." Any excess power is then sold back to PG&E.
Part of the expansion of the program will be to get more towns involved. Carr is hoping to get every town in the authority's jurisdiction to have restaurants that are using the food waste recycling. Expansion also will go from only using the precooked food from the prep kitchen to including the waste coming back from the patrons as well.
Carr said the authority is gauging the interest from EBMUD to see if they would be able to arrange a decrease in price for the increase in waste stream coming into the digesters.
"The food waste helps the bio-solids break down more quickly," Carr claimed. The mixture of the food waste to the digesters also appears to be producing more methane.
Food waste isn't the only place the authority is looking to increase recycling. Andersen said they are also looking at ways to get more businesses to take part in recycling.
"We see that our residents do a pretty good job of recycling," she said. "Right now, though, there's no financial incentive for businesses to sort the trash."
Many businesses employ a cleaning service to take out the garbage, which also keeps them from sorting out the recyclables. Andersen said any incentive program will have to take factors like that into account.
"It is something that we on the authority will be looking at to see how we can facilitate some of this recycling as well," she explained.