A look at what happens to Central Coast food waste




Last night’s leftovers can be found at the anaerobic digester, a purple and white dome-shaped structure, located at Monterey Regional Waste Management District.

“We receive food waste from area businesses, restaurants, hotels, even local hospitals,” explained Jeff Lindenthal with MRWMD.

Monterey and the surrounding counties send their scraps to the site in Marina, where it gets mixed with mulch and goes into the digester for three weeks. During that time, the material is converted to methane, Lindenthal explained, which is fed into an engine generator and eventually produces electricity.

Next, the organic mass becomes high-quality compost, which starts the farm-to-table concept over again.

“It kind of brings the management of food residue and kitchen leftovers full-circle,” said Lindenthal. “From the farms to the kitchen to the processing at the end, and then the finished compost can go back to the farms.”

It’s estimated that about one-third of the material going into state landfills is organic waste, like food. To get those numbers down, “California is basically requiring businesses that generate large amounts of organics to recycle them, keep them separate from the trash,” said Lindenthal, referring to Assembly Bill 1826.

The new food oasis in Marina, located off of Imjin Parkway, is still under construction. The property’s developer, Scott Negri, says the restaurants there have tapped into the food waste recycling program from the beginning.

“We have a two-yard compost for food waste that gets picked up three days a week,” said Negri. “So we go through six yards of food waste that normally would just go out into the dump, now it’s all going in to be organically processed.”

Negri notes the easy part is getting the employees of the restaurants to separate the scraps.

“The hard part is for the consumer,” he said.

Restaurants like Chipotle and Teriyaki Madness have made it easier, with separate bins for food scraps alongside the trash and recycle bins, but “unfortunately, not everybody puts it in the right bin,” said Negri.

He says he hopes this fairly new concept in going green catches on, so the landfills don’t fill up.