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Where does our green waste go? Behind the scenes at Ventura County's green recycler

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Caroline Feraday
/
KCLU
Agromin is headquartered in Oxnard

Whether it’s grass cuttings or food scraps, our green waste could be the key to saving water during the drought.

Another truck turns into the Agromin headquarters in Oxnard to dump out its load – a load which started its journey being collected from our green waste containers, before being taken here - to one of the biggest green recycling facilities in Ventura County and the State.

"People just put their barrow out and think, 'ok, it's gone, I don't have to worry about it now,' but in reality there's a lot more to it," said David Green, Chief Operating Officer for Agromin.

"There is a little fresher odor at this part of the yard as we are getting that material to process," said Green, "but as we go through the facility you'll see that smell become a rich earthy smell," said Green.

Oxnard is one of 13 locations for Agromin, and covers 24 acres. The company receives over a million tons of organic material each year. The compost and soil products produced from a mixture of yard trimmings and food scraps would take years to break down naturally – a process speeded up at this facility.

"Mother Nature would take about a thousand years to create one inch of topsoil," said Green.

"Here at Agromin we are challenged to do this process in 45-60 days."

With water restrictions in place for many residents on the Central and South Coasts, compost could be a tool to reduce the need to water frequently, says Green.

"We are in the third year of drought and we are being asked to conserve water. One of the ways we can do that is use compost, which holds 20% of its weight in water.

"Compost is a very powerful water retention component in our soil."

Organic compost is a mixture of yard trimmings and food scraps that naturally decompose when microorganisms break down the material. Mixing compost into the soil reduces soil density, improves the soil’s biological make-up and introduces beneficial microorganisms. Compost acts like a sponge, increasing the soil’s water-holding capacity and enabling water to soak further into the soil to a plant’s root system.

Organic mulch is typically made of shredded and chipped non-processed wood. A 1” to 2” layer of mulch placed on top of soil holds in water, keeps the soil cool and reduces evaporation. Mulch will eventually break down into the soil, adding nutrients. Mulch also suppresses weeds.

Applying compost and mulch to landscapes can reduce the amount of water needed to maintain grass, plants, flowers, vegetables, shrubs and trees according to Agromin, a California-based company that produces organic soil products from locally collected green waste.

“Compost and mulch are well known to improve the health of the soil and structure of plants,” says Bill Camarillo, Agromin’s CEO, “but their water-saving advantages are just as important, especially during severe drought.”

How much water can be saved using compost and mulch? Compost can hold 20 times its weight in water. A study by soil scientists found that for every 1% of organic matter content, the soil can hold 16,500 gallons of plant-available water per acre of soil down to one foot deep

“With water restrictions allowing residents to water only one or two days per week, extending every drop of water is critical,” says Camarillo. “Adding compost and mulch to your landscape can reduce water frequency while keeping landscapes healthy.”

Once the compost is ready and tested, it’s time to bag it up and ship it out.

"This is a lot of our green jobs. This is a manual process here in Oxnard. We make about 10,000 bags a day and it takes about 15 employees to do it."

It's "very satisfying" to see this transformation to our green waste, says Green.

"They used to go to landfill and they were contributors to some of our climate change as they create methane. In the composting process we don't create methane, so we are reducing those greenhouse gases."

Caroline won an LA Press Club Award in 2021 for Use Of Sound. However, she started her broadcasting career in the UK, working on both radio and television for the BBC, 95.8 Capital FM and Sky News and was awarded the Prince Philip Medal for her services to radio and journalism. She moved to Los Angeles in 2013 and is both an American and British citizen. Caroline lives in Agoura Hills with her daughter, and joined the KCLU team in 2020.