Trash: A New Commodity

Recovering Resources at the Landfill Makes Good Public Policy

Believe it or not, many community members are fascinated by trash management, a seemingly unlikely fact suggested by The Santa Barbara Independent, in jest, in its “Trashy Summer Reading” article. That’s fortunate for the Tajiguas Resource Recovery Project because County Public Works needs to have feedback on important environmental projects like this one proposed at the Tajiguas Landfill. Public participation and review of the daunting Draft Subsequent Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) is crucial in this kind of development.

Before Public Works released the draft report on August 11, we held more than 125 public meetings, over a seven-year period, in order to develop a project that would reflect the community’s environmental values. This new document on the waste recovery project is the culmination of numerous technical studies on the effects of positive changes proposed to manage the trash currently being buried at Tajiguas.

More importantly, a public hearing to take public comment takes place today, Thursday, September 4, at the County Public Health Auditorium on North San Antonio Road just off Calle Real. It starts at 5 p.m. If you can’t make this meeting, we will accept public comment until September 24. Send comments to Joddi Leipner at or call (805) 882-3614. Mail comments to Tajiguas Resource Recovery Project, County Public Works, 130 East Victoria Street, Suite 100, Santa Barbara, CA 93101.

The Draft SEIR is available at the project website, at local libraries, and at the Public Works office. As stated in the article, we are also presenting an update on this recovery Project and the Draft SEIR to both the County and City of Santa Barbara planning commissions. Public feedback on the Draft SEIR is an important continuation of the community dialog taking place over the past seven years, and we plan to continue that beyond the environmental review process.

The new project primarily consists of two facilities. First, a materials recovery facility (MRF) will process the waste currently delivered to the landfill, pulling out recyclables and organic material such as food waste and yard waste. Second, an anaerobic digestion (AD) facility will convert organic waste into electricity, compost, and other soil amendments.

The Recovery Project goes beyond raising Santa Barbara’s recycling rate to well above 80 percent (state mandate requires 75 percent by 2020). Its reduction of greenhouse gas emissions will be the equivalent of taking more than 24,000 cars off the road annually; it will generate enough green energy to power 1,000 homes in our community. This would be in addition to the 2,500 homes already powered by Tajiguas landfill through our existing landfill gas extraction system.

The Recovery Project is not a replacement for existing programs but a necessary and useful addition that will allow county programs to grow into the future. The new MRF will allow us more control and flexibility over the materials we are currently recycling. The AD facility will allow us to expand existing food waste collection programs and offer additional products to farmers and residents beyond the 35,000 tons of mulch the county already provides.

Some of the comments we have received over the years at our public presentations, and even in The Independent online comments section, have questioned the location of the Recovery Project. The Draft SEIR’s alternatives section takes a look at the effects of building the project facilities in other locations, such as building the largest of the facilities (the MRF) closer to the urban core of Santa Barbara. The alternatives section also looks at the environmental consequences of exporting our waste out of our community. The report itself did not find an option that was environmentally superior to the original proposal. By our own research, any cost increase that may be caused by the Recovery Project will be equal to or less than the alternatives studied.

We hope that the Recovery Project creates much community interest because it has many environmental benefits. We hope to hear from you.

Mark Schleich is deputy director of County Public Works and in charge of waste management, including the Tajiguas Landfill.


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