Thanks to new waste collection services, businesses in San José have dramatically boosted their recycling rate from 22 percent to almost 70 percent between July and December 2012. City of San José staff are highlighting this accomplishment in a presentation on the Commercial Solid Waste Transition at the March 4, 2013 Transportation and Environment Committee meeting.

The new waste collection services began July 1, 2012, providing a two-container wet/dry sort for businesses. Wet items include organics, such as food waste, used napkins and paper plates, and landscape trimmings. Dry items include everything else, including glass, paper, plastics, cardboard, and scrap metals. Waste collection also changed to a single hauler system under franchise with the City of San José. Previously, San José’s 8,000 businesses selected and negotiated their own garbage and recycling services among more than 20 different City-approved haulers.

Some businesses are taking pride in the higher recycling rate. At downtown San José’s Fairmont Hotel, Assistant Controller and Sustainability Champion, Michael Miller reported, “The two-container, wet/dry system was quite easy to implement and we are pleased by how committed and supportive our staff is of this most important initiative.  As a result, we are realizing cost savings and proudly increasing the amount we recycle.” 

Similarly, ARM Inc. in San José is pleased with its fuller participation in recycling. “At our office in San José, we recycle paper, cans and plastics, and we collect all of our wet waste for composting. This activity has significantly decreased the amount of trash we send to landfill,” said Sharon Tolaio, US Facilities Manager, ARM. “We are pleased to be playing our part in this environmentally-friendly initiative.”

“We’re on track to achieve 80 percent waste diversion by 2014,” said Councilmember Sam Liccardo (District 3), who chairs the City’s Transportation and Environment Committee. “That’s good news for everyone because this helps extend the life of our landfills and reduces associated taxpayer costs, which can be significant.”

“And with a single, streamlined collection service,” continued Liccardo, “We have reduced the number of garbage trucks driving through busy business districts. These are among the steps that help move San José towards a sustainable future.” In its Green Vision, the San José Council has set a goal to divert 100 percent of waste from landfill and convert waste to energy by 2022.

In 2011, the City conducted a competitive bid process, bringing in Republic Services (Republic) and Zero Waste Energy Development (ZWED) to collaborate and develop services and infrastructure that would both escalate the business community’s rate of recycling and reduce carbon output.

In order to process the increased volume of business waste, Republic expanded their San José material recovery facility to an 80,000-square foot, multi-stream processing center capable of sorting 400,000 tons of mixed wet and dry materials every year. The facility stands as the largest recycling facility in the world.

“Our facility can recover a high percentage of the incoming waste,” said Gil Cheso, Republic’s Bay Area Municipal Relationship Manager. “And we minimize our carbon output by using compressed natural gas in all of our collection vehicles. We also have plans to use alternative energy sources at our facility. We’re committed to having the most sustainable operations possible.”

ZWED’s facility addresses the waste-to-energy component of the Green Vision. ZWED is currently constructing, in San José, the first commercial scale dry waste digester facility in North America that will take the organic stream generated by the business community and convert it to biogas. The facility is anticipated to be operational in early 2014.

Kerrie Romanow, Environmental Services Director, is pleased with the early results of the new service. “The rapid increase in the business community’s recycling rate reflects the success of Republic’s operations and shows that our businesses are effectively participating. San José has long enjoyed one of the highest recycling rates in the nation in the residential sector. Now we can thank our business community for a similar recycling performance.”