NorthBay biz - Green
A Deeper Shade of
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- A Deeper Shade
- by Patricia Dines
- March 2010
NorthBay biz magazine
NorthBay biz regular Patricia Dines gives
readers a look at Petaluma's Sonoma Compost Company
and its organic community composting
(c) Copyright Patricia Dines, 2010.
All rights reserved.
For some businesses, green is just the latest trend -- something
new to add to their existing product lines, marketing and
operations. But for a few pioneering companies, eco-principles
have long been at the core of what they do, woven into their
organizations' fundamental design and ongoing success.
- It's in this latter group we find Petaluma's Sonoma Compost
Company (SCC), which has spent the last 25 years transforming
local yard trimmings and agricultural discards into rich composts
and mulches that nurture local farms, school and home gardens,
parks, lawns and more.
- Each year, SCC diverts more waste from the landfill than any
other Sonoma County recycling service, and it's made use of an
incredible 1.2 million tons of discarded material since 1993.
Through this work, the company vitally contributes to Sonoma
County's diversion mandates and helps reduce the financial and
ecological impacts of hauling garbage to out-of-county
- Patrick Carter, waste management specialist at the Sonoma
County Waste Management Agency (SCWMA), says, "Sonoma County would
have a lot of difficulty meeting its waste reduction goals if this
program weren't in place."
- The seed for SCC was planted in the 1980s, when co-owner Alan
Siegle was teaching Sonoma State University's Ecological Food
Production class and co-owner Will Bakx was managing its student
farm. When Siegle had difficulty finding organic compost suitable
for his organic Bennett Valley Farm, he and Bakx decided to create
a company to fill this need. Thus, in 1985, Santa Rosa's Bennett
Valley Farm Compost was born, turning unwanted local horse and
turkey manure into a resource to naturally feed local soils.
- Then in 1989, California passed AB939, also known as the
Integrated Waste Management Act. This legislation sought to
address the state's increasing waste and decreasing landfill space
by mandating specific targets for diverting usable materials from
our garbage. The law's first reduction priority was organic
(carbon-based) materials, and so, in 1993, SCC launched its
current yard debris composting program at Sonoma County's Central
Disposal Site, which it operates in collaboration with the County
of Sonoma and the SCWMA.
- Each year, SCC processes more than 93,000 tons of yard
trimmings, agricultural discards, wood debris and vegetative food
scraps. The materials first arrive via curbside green cans,
individual drop-offs, and local farms, wineries and food
processors. SCC then removes contaminants (such as plastic and
glass) and recovers reusable wood items (such as pallets, lumber
and firewood, which it sells at discounted prices).
- The remaining clean organic matter is ground up and placed in
42 windrows (long piles) stretching 7 feet tall, 18 feet wide, and
from 180 to 650 feet long. Using specialized heavy equipment,
these windrows are turned, monitored and irrigated as needed
during their 70- to 100-day processing periods.
- SCC's harvest for its efforts is 84,000 cubic yards of quality
soil amendments per year. This includes its Sonoma Compost,
Organic Hi-Test Compost (with chicken feathers for higher
nitrogen), Mallard Plus Compost (with rice hulls for lightness),
Feather-Lite Amended Soil (with sandy loam added to the Mallard),
two mulches and custom blends.
- Bakx explains that most soils are poor in organic matter, so
adding compost can increase plant productivity and vitality by
improving soil structure, providing nutrients, conserving water,
reducing erosion and increasing microbial activity. Also, all of
SCC's soil amendments (except its Path Mulch) meet organic farming
standards, which help local farmers serve the growing organic
market while reducing synthetic fertilizer and pesticide use.
- Siegle notes that SCC's ecological benefits extend beyond
converting discards into useful eco-products. For instance,
processing materials locally avoids the environmental impacts of
other recycling operations "that use vast amounts of energy to
ship recycled materials all around the world to be made into
products that are shipped back to us." Additionally, the operation
reduces the greenhouse gases (such as methane) produced by organic
materials decaying in landfills.
- SCC also cuts costs for garbage ratepayers and self-haul
businesses, because the fee for discarding yard waste at the
landfill site is a third of that for depositing garbage. Plus,
comments Siegle, "We're a great example of how a green business
can create much-needed jobs in a community." Yard trimmings in the
landfill created virtually no jobs, he elaborates, "but now, more
than 20 employees are working full-time here to support a green
- In 2007, a SCWMA study gave SCC good news: From 1990 to 2007,
yard waste in local garbage had been cut 73 percent, and was now
just 6 percent of total waste. The report also highlighted the
next area SCC seeks to address: the 80,000 tons of food we throw
away each year, which is 21 percent of total waste.
- By finding ways to retrieve this material, Bakx and Siegle
hope they'll get closer to their ultimate goal -- recovering all
compostable materials from our waste stream, thus helping move our
culture toward a new reality of zero waste and full use of our
- Patricia Dines has been a freelance writer on
sustainability topics for 26 years. For more about her work, see
www.patriciadines.info. For more about Sonoma Compost, visit
www.sonomacompost.com or call (707) 578-5459.
This article (without graphics) is also on the publication's
website at http://www.northbaybiz.com/Special_Features/Green_Scene/A_Deeper_Shade_of_Green.php
This entire website is (c) Patricia
Dines, 1998-2010. All rights reserved.
Patricia Dines is a writer and public speaker. Her
specialty is inspiring and empowering constructive action on
environmental issues. For more information, see
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