This summer, to meet its 2020 goal of zero waste, UCSC plans to begin building a recycling yard north of the farm to compost organic matter and sort waste. The project is detailed in the March 9, 2015 Draft Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration prepared by the Office of Physical Planning & Construction. The deadline given for public comments is confusing. Page 6 of the document says that comments must be made by 5:00PM on Friday, April 9, 2015. But April 9, 2015 is a Thursday. Does it mean Friday April 10? The local Sentinel paper had a short article on March 27, 2015. An informative essay on the regional aspects of this question was published in a March 2014 article by Good Times.
I have two questions. The main one is about UCSC’s rush to build a relatively small and expensive facility this summer to meet a 2020 deadline of zero waste (meaning 95% diversion), when a more effective, cooperative, scaled up, and less costly solution could be a regional facility for the region from Santa Cruz to Watsonville?
The basic facts as I understand them are:
- 40% of landfill waste, both at UCSC and in the region facilities, is organic waste (food debris + green waste). When it is dumped in a landfill, it becomes a major emitter of green house gases, especially methane. It is important to separate it, techniques and machines exist to do that efficiently and produce clean, rich compost rapidly, and there is a market for the end product.
- The goal of zero waste by 2020 (95% diversion) given by UCSC and UCOP is the same as that of California’s AB 32. This bill has the effect of urging the city of Santa Cruz, the county, Watsonville, and other local agencies, to look for a regional solution together because of scale and cost. One of the main reasons for the push is the considerable emission of methane in unsorted landfill.
- The cost for the UCSC project would be $5 million. According to the Good Times article, the public works operations manager for the city of Santa Cruz, Mary Arman, speaks of a minimum project cost of $1.5 million and makes it clear that for treatment of organic debris, the cost would be high and volume is critical.
The region therefore is working on the same issue that UCSC faces. Since a solution is being discussed actively regionally, it would behoove UCSC to explore the options in cooperation with local agencies rather than go solo on this project. I would prefer to see the regional options discussed and factored in. It is possible that a future composting facility in the region would not suit UCSC’s need because of its distance, and incurred costs, including transportation. Still, it makes sense to see UCSC get or remain involved in a full deliberation of the regional possibilities. For water, another essential good, UCSC could have developed its own water system, yet decided to rely on the city’s facilities. Can’t it continue to do the same for waste?
My second reaction concerns the location of the UCSC project. It is at the bottom of a beautiful meadow used by many cyclists and walkers. It is right north of the CASFS Farm, with its appropriate small buildings, and near the Arboretum. The pictures taken in the 3/2015 Draft Initial Study are taken from far and do not give me a good sense of the impact this road, yard and building(s?) would have on visitors and bicycle users. The project is judged to have little aesthetic impact (page 26 of the Draft Initial Study document). On the contrary, it seems to me that the project will have a major negative scenic impact.
- 3/2015 Draft Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration;
- A page from the UCSC sustainability office: 7/31/2012 Landfill & Solid Waste Task Force Report;
- The short article from the Sentinel, 3/27/15;
- The longer article on composting solutions for the Santa Cruz area from Good Times, 3/2014.