Where does the stuff in the Green Bin go?

On a cool and cloudy Saturday in late October, Athens Services staged one of its semi-annual “Community Give Backs” and dumped 20 tons of fragrant steaming compost on a Loma Alta Park parking lot. Athens welcomed Altadenans to help themselves and many of us avid gardeners did! We were cautioned that the stuff was “hot”, extremely fertile, and to be sure to mix it with soil at a 4 to 1 ratio.

Athens’ PR Director Ed Chen was there. I asked him “How do you create this marvelous stuff out of our yard waste?” Turns out it’s pretty complicated, and accomplished on a massive scale. About 100 tons per day of our clippings and weeds, combined with food waste from commercial sources, enter the composting facility in Victorville.

There it is screened, picked over manually for inorganic rubbish, run under a magnet to remove metal, ground up, and set out in windrows where it is thoroughly wetted. There it sits for a few days to mellow, getting tossed around from time to time by a huge machine, until it’s ready for the “Positive Aerated Static Pile Composting System,” a vast concrete pad perforated with holes every few feet. Big fans drive air through these holes into the debris. Decomposition, aided by a steady flow of air from beneath, heats the mass to a minimum of 131 degrees Fahrenheit for 72 continuous hours to kill pathogens and seeds.

Temperature, pH, and other factors are continually monitored, nutrients added when necessary, and when it is all balanced and cooked to a turn, it is re-screened and set out to cure for 30 days or so before going off to market. Most is sold for agricultural use, and a bit is given to communities Athens serves.

This process takes place according to many regulations and ordinances under the watchful eyes of composting experts and county officials; the finished product is certified organic by OMRI (the Organic Materials Review Institute). Athens is currently ramping up facilities to prepare for the enactment of California State Senate Bill 1383, which requires all restaurants, food service providers, and distributors to send edible food waste to a facility like Athens’ Victorville facility by January 1st 2022. Restaurants, caterers, cafeterias, etc., will have to comply by January 1st 2024. When will we be asked to contribute our food waste? Ed Chen says they are working on that.