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Turning Sacramento Kitchen Scraps To Compost, One Bike Ride At A Time

Julia Mitric / Capital Public Radio

Scott Thompson with Oak Park Soil.

Julia Mitric / Capital Public Radio

It turns out a fist bump is appropriate protocol when you meet folks who make compost.

“Our hands are never clean and we like it that way!” explains Oak Park resident Scott Thompson, laughing.

Over the past eight years, Thompson’s learned a few things about compost. Under the name Oak Park Soil, he provides an informal organics recycling service to a handful of Sacramento restaurants and cafes.

Thompson’s operation is based in Oak Park and it’s pedal-powered. He rides around Sacramento on a bike trailer with bins that can handle about a 100 pounds of material per trip.

California law currently requires businesses that generate 4 cubic yards of organic waste per week to arrange for organic recycling services. That’s roughly equivalent to filling two smaller dumpsters.

Many restaurants don't generate that volume. Nonetheless, Thompson points out, they still produce lots of kitchen scraps. Once coffee filters, eggshells, produce scraps and other organic material ends up in the landfill, it begins to decompose, generating methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

The notion of fossil-fuel powered trucks carrying water and organic material to decompose in a landfill really bothers Oak Park resident Scott Thompson.

After observing staff at a neighborhood cafe lugging heavy trash bags to the dumpster, day after day, he asked himself, what if much of the weight of those garbage bags (that is, food scraps and water) could become compost instead?

Thompson recalls thinking: “That's a bonus. We're reducing waste and we get this amazing material that's useful to gardeners and farmers - they love it.”

His passion has driven him to ride a bike trailer around Sacramento for the past eight years. He picks up food scraps from a half-dozen restaurants and cafes including the McGeorge School of Law cafeteria.

Thompson keeps a labeled plastic garbage can at The Plant Foundry in Oak Park so neighbors can drop off their kitchen scraps. He also collects leaves, twigs and other plant debris from the nursery.

He hauls the organic matter he gathers to a compost silo in the backyard of a nearby house where he rents a room. He bikes the rest of the material to Oak Park Sol community garden less than five blocks away.

His backyard compost headquarters, the community garden, the nursery and the law school cafeteria form a bikeable loop within the neighborhood.

“That’s because the whole idea is to keep the organic materials generated in the neighborhood in the neighborhood as opposed to shipping them off to a landfill,” explains Thompson.

He says he’s baffled by the lack of a residential organics collection program in Sacramento. The city does however have a leaf collection program.

Erin Treadwell is with the Recycling and Solid Waste Division within the Sacramento Department of Public WorksShe says the city collects 62,000 tons annually and 27,000 tons during leaf season (November, December and January).

Treadwell says the city contracts with a company called Republic for leaf collection.

“Republic diverts the yard waste through several means. It’s sent to a co-generation plant in Rocklin and turned into energy. It is also sent for agricultural use, in direct land application,” writes Treadwell in an email.

Nonetheless, Thompson argues Sacramento is behind the curve on residential organics recycling.

He says he meets Sacramento residents who seem to love the cosmopolitan living in New York and San Francisco. He jokes that locals can “pretend” they live in one of those places by recycling their food waste instead of putting into the garbage.

You don’t need a backyard or any special resources to recycle your kitchen scraps, notes Thompson. He urges people to connect with a neighborhood community garden where there is likely already a compost.

If you don’t have space in your kitchen for a compost bucket, he advises putting kitchen scraps in a brown paper bag in your freezer. When it’s full, take it to a nearby community garden and add it to their compost.

Or, if you live in Oak Park, you can drop your produce scraps in the labeled bin at The Plant Foundry on Broadway.

Thompson says he makes a pick up there at least once a day.

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Scott Thompson.

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