Groundbreaking Solid Waste Recycling Operation Goes Online In Santa Barbara County
New facility will increase recycling rate by about 20%, generating electricity in the process
You can hear the rumbling of machinery coming from a massive building tucked away in a canyon on Santa Barbara County’s Gaviota coastline.
This football-field sized building in the heart of a new state-of-the-art waste management facility at the County’s Tajiguas Landfill. It will reduce the amount of trash which needs to be buried by more than 60%, create green electricity and natural gas, and extend the life of the landfill by a decade.
John Dewey is CEO of Mustang Renewable Power Ventures, which built the project in conjunction with Santa Barbara County and some of its cities. He talks about the huge building, the Material Recovery Facility. It has high tech equipment like optical scanners which can sort things like water bottles and detergent containers for recycling.
Inside the facility, it looks like a gigantic warehouse with trash compressed into huge cubes. But, the Material Recovery Facility is just the start of the recycling effort.
It will sort out organic wastes, which will be put into a special system which will create gas in the pipes to generate electricity.
It’s enough electricity to power about a thousand to 1200 homes. Eventually, even the material in the pipes will be recycled into fertilizers for local farms.
And, gas produced from the landfill will also be used eventually to power truck bringing garbage to the landfill. Dewey says while some of the technology is being used in other places, this is the first spot in the country to combine all of these efforts to maximize recycling.
While the project sounds like a home run for the environment now, it’s been a long road to turn it into a reality. Planning started 15 years ago, in 2006.
Santa Barbara County Deputy Public Works Director Leslie Wells gets a little emotional when she talks about all the effort to make it happen. She says they spent years doing environmental impact reports, and negotiating contracts. They also had to battle a number of lawsuits filed by those worried about environmental impacts.
County Public Works Direct Scott McGolpin says it's a great example of a public-private partnership with companies like Mustang Ventures working with the county, and many of the county's cities to do something groundbreaking.
Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams was on the Santa Barbara City Council when the idea was first proposed 15 years ago. He says there wasn't a lot of community support for the effort when it first started.
But, he says now that it's done, it's a showcase of what can be done to improve sustainability, and should serve as motivation for more projects in the region to help the environment, and fight climate change.