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Dear Wally,

I heard about all the bagged produce that doesn’t make it to stores going to Johnson Canyon Landfill for composting. How are you composting plastic bags and packaging?  Are you paying people to open up all of those bags? That can’t be cost effective. I’m confused; what are you doing?

Signed,
Salad Lover

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Dear Salad Lover,

It’s true that a composting program is in development at the Johnson Canyon Landfill, and Salinas Valley Recycles is working with local haulers and produce packers to recover food products that would have previously gone straight into the landfill, and are now processing organic matter (anything that was once alive, aka food) into compost and feedstock for clean energy production. I can understand how the thought of people opening all the packaging to separate the food from the plastic sounds expensive and extremely labor-intensive. Indeed, that would be cost-prohibitive and that’s precisely why it has not been done. Introducing the de-packer! 

Thanks in part to a generous grant from the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), the de-packer has been up and running since summer of 2019. Bagged material is loaded onto the de-packer conveyor belt, the food material is separated from the packaging by the de-packer, then chopped into a “salsa” or slurry material ready for composting. The organic slurry is stored in a tank before being sent to Carmel Area Wastewater District’s (CAWD) Anaerobic Digester for clean energy production.  With the upcoming (Spring 2020) completion of our composting facility, Salinas Valley Recycles will also begin accepting commercial collected food waste from restaurants and other food generators and turning this material into slurry for both composting and energy production.

So, my dear Salad Lover, this wonderful machine does the hard work, and as a result, we are able to reduce the greenhouse gas-producing food waste from going into the landfill (diverting approximately 15,000 tons of waste from the landfill annually!), and recover nutrient-rich resources to return back to our local land and farms.  Composting food waste and other organic matter is a vital step toward a future without landfills, and reducing climate impacts.

Depackager Mascot

I’m Rip – The Depackager. Check out the photos below to see what I look like in the real world

Organics operations:

Organics Diversion Workers in front of packaged produce

De-packager machine:

Photo of Depackager machine

Output – Organics

Organics coming out of building into storageClose up of organics "salsa" from depackager   

Output – Plastic film to be sent to landfill

Depackager output of film plastic