Who owns businesses' food byproducts?
WRITTEN BY SUSIE SUTPHIN
PHOTOS COURTESY GREAT BASIN BREWING COMPANY
When managers at Great Basin Brewing Company contracted with Castaway Trash Hauling to take its food and beverage waste to RT Donovan Company's regional composting facility in Sparks, it seemed to be an appropriate business-to-business move. But when Waste Management leaders got wind of the transaction it called into question, "Who owns the garbage?"
Leaders at such environmentally friendly businesses as Great Basin Brewing are conscious of the byproduct their services generate. Great Basin, for one, constantly is looking for ways to recycle as much waste as possible.
"We currently recycle between 93 to 95 percent of our waste," says Tom Young, owner of Great Basin Brewing in Reno and Sparks. "And we are investigating ways to reduce that even further."
But when Great Basin Brewing managers first contacted Waste Management officials to manage their organic waste back in the summer of 2010, Waste Management officials were not set up to service such a small account. That did not change the fact that the Great Basin folks still wanted to compost their organic waste. They needed an alternative and looked to Castaway in Sparks to do the job.
As background, Waste Management holds the exclusive franchise agreement for trash removal in Washoe County (Reno and Sparks). The company has a guaranteed customer base because garbage service is mandated by a local environmental health ordinance. Even though an exclusive franchise agreement can sound like a monopoly, the franchiser does pay a fee for this right. And buying in bulk for the exclusive contract enables Waste Management to keep costs low for its residential customers. In addition, without a franchise agreement, we could have trash trucks on our residential streets every day because each customer might have a different trash hauler.
Waste Management managers charge commercial customers such as Great Basin Brewery by the volume, giving the company an interest in channeling as much garbage as their customers can produce. When a customer decides to divert material from "their" waste stream, it gives Waste Management officials cause for concern.
Waste Management officials are familiar with the transport of compostable materials. For one, the company hauls food waste for Whole Foods Market managers in Reno to RT Donovan. And in January of this year the company added Atlantis Casino Resort Spa to the program.
By the winter of 2011, Waste Management managers had a system in place to handle Great Basin's organic waste. Thus, officials approached Great Basin managers with the news. But they had already established a relationship with Castaway.
What constitutes garbage? Are recyclables garbage? Not according to the health department. Unlike residential customers, commercial customers can contract with non-franchised haulers on the open market for removing their recyclables. This applies just to recyclables. Washoe County Board of Health officials have the authority to say how solid waste is managed.
"We can approve a business like Great Basin to segregate their waste into various components (e.g. organic waste, paper, aluminum, steel, plastic, etc.) and have it collected by a waste hauler approved to transport that specific material to a permitted recycling facility," says Jeanne Rucker, environmental supervisor at the Washoe County District Health Department.
Organic, food waste is recyclable since you can compost it. But the language qualifying it as a recyclable has been loosely held. Waste Management officials interpreted it to mean garbage and has asserted that right under their franchise agreement.
"Our contention was that food waste could be recycled since it is listed as a recyclable material in state law," Rucker says. "Because of the confusion in the existing definition and legal implications, we decided that it was necessary to change the definition of garbage."
And that's exactly what they did. Starting in June 2011, Washoe County Board of Health members proposed changing the definition of garbage to exclude any solid waste that is recyclable material. And on Oct. 27, 2011 this new regulation governing garbage was approved and later adopted into the larger Solid Waste Management Plan, which outlines community waste issues and makes recommendations for the next five years.
"The Board of Health is very interested in supporting initiatives and businesses that reduce waste and divert recyclable materials from the landfill," Rucker says. "It is important to evaluate our waste not only from an economic perspective but from an environmental one as well."
Waste Management officials share that vision and are taking progressive measures.
"Waste Management recognizes the community's desire to see more recycling and conservation efforts," says Justin Caporusso, communications manager for Waste Management's Northern Nevada and Northern California markets. "We are working hard to introduce a single-stream recycling program for the area and launch a 'landfill-gas-to-energy' program, which will power 1,800 homes."
Young with Great Basin Brewing is encouraged by Waste Management's efforts.
"I hope to see more services that make it easier for businesses to recycle materials," Young says.
City of Reno leaders are poised to work with Waste Management officials on the implications of the new regulation and the effect it has on their agreement. But for now, this process determined that if Great Basin Brewing managers (and any local business owners) want to characterize a portion of their waste as recyclable and not garbage they have the right to source-separate and have a non-franchised company such as Castaway haul it to a recycling or composting facility, just not a landfill.
For details, visit the Washoe County District Board of Health at Co.washoe.nv.us/health/dbh/index.php , RT Donovan at Rtdonovan.com, or Castaway at Castawaytrashhauling.com . Or for details on Waste Management's single-stream recycling program visit www.TruckeeMeadowsRecycling.com.
Truckee resident Susie Sutphin has Foodlust (a deep respect for food). She writes about it on her blog www.Foodlust.n