New World of Trash Conversion

Supervisors Start Environmental Review of High-Tech Recycling Plant

Tajiguas Landfill
Paul Wellman (file)

The County Board of Supervisors initiated environmental review on a proposed $60-million, five-acre, high-tech, state-of-the-art trash recycling and conversion technology plant along the Gaviota Coast that will extend the shelf life of the Tajiguas Landfill — final resting place for South Coast refuse — by an additional 10 years. Making meaningful environmental predictions problematic, no such conversion technology facilities have ever been built in the United States, though construction on one is currently underway in the City of San Jose. The company selected to do the job — Mustang Renewable Power Ventures — is run by two prominent real estate developers from San Luis Obispo with no prior experience in the garbage business, though one of their subcontractors has built many such plants in Europe, where they are reportedly common.

Tajiguas is projected to run out of permitted landfill space in 10 years if South Coast residents keep generating trash and green waste at their current clip, roughly 200,000 tons a year. If all goes according to Mustang’s plans, sorting technology will salvage about 50,000 tons of recyclables a year from a high-tech materials recovery facility. Another 60,000 tons will be fed into a giant vacuum-sealed concrete vault, into which bacterial microbes will be fed. The methane thus produced — which from a traditional landfill would slowly seep into the atmosphere — is the equivalent to what 22,000 cars a year would release. By burning the methane, Mustang could produce enough juice to power 1,000 homes. With enough work, the 16,000 tons of “digestate” leftover might be convertible into marketable compost. Failing that, it can be buried at Tajiguas. All of this will reportedly cost ratepayers an additional $2.29 cents a month in their trash bills.

While the supervisors voted unanimously to commence environmental review, some — like Salud Carbajal — expressed concern that the environmental analysis contain a “robust” discussion of alternatives. One such alternative would be to locate the material recovery facility at MarBorg Industry’s headquarters in downtown Santa Barbara, which would presumably reduce the number of truck trips to and from Tajiguas. MarBorg just put the county on written notice that it’s interested. Other supervisors expressed concern that the developers had no track record with such developments, that costs might balloon unpredictably, or that they may lack the financial muscle to pull off so ambitious an undertaking. Supervisor Joni Gray praised the professionalism of the proposal, but took exception to locating an expanding industrial facility so close to the coast.


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