Here’s an eye-opener: In 2010, Americans generated 250 million tons of MSW, or Municipal Solid Waste (technical jargon for trash) according to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s website, Per capita, that’s a staggering 1,617 pounds of garbage per person per year. Of that amount, on average, 34%, or 165 million tons, ended up in landfills. The rest was recycled, composted or incinerated.

Since there are laws regulating how much waste can go into landfills, Allied Waste, a division of Republic Services and Benicia’s provider, has an aggressive recycling program to divert as much material as possible from Keller Canyon, the landfill that serves our area. Allied Waste is an award-winning, certified green business, and through their efforts, 60% of our “trash,” well above the mandated amount, is being diverted from the landfill. Additionally, the methane gas generated from Keller Canyon is sold to PG & E and piped to Alameda to produce electricity.

Marie Knutson, Allied Waste’s Recycling Coordinator, works with residents and businesses to find uses for materials that would otherwise end up at Keller. Knutson has a knack for getting unwanted and leftover materials, ranging from guitar strings to floor tiles, into the hands of folks who find creative uses for them, especially teachers and artists. Residents and businesses can contact Knutson before throwing out anything that could potentially be recycled, reused or repurposed.

Allied contracts with Pacific Rim Recycling to process the materials picked up from brown carts. Pacific Rim is located in the Benicia Business Park, where I recently had a tour. Allied’s trucks deposit the materials at Pacific Rim’s plant, where it’s scooped into a bin for two rounds of sorting by half a dozen or so gloved employees, 16 hours a day, 5 days a week. Metals, cans, hazardous materials, plastics, cardboard, paper, glass and non-recyclables get sorted into bins in a multi-step process. John Ryan, Pacific Rim’s Assistant Facility Manager, estimates that they process 250 tons of material each day.

Metals, glass and plastic are processed in the US, but the cardboard and paper get shipped to China to huge factories where it is cleaned, turned into pulp, bleached and remade into recycled paper and other products, much of which, unappealing as it sounds, is toilet paper. Allied’s “capture rate” is 93-97%, meaning only 3-7% of the sorted material is sent to the landfill.

Find detailed information on Allied’s website regarding new services (among others, curbside household hazardous waste pickup) and a comprehensive list of what can and can’t be put in brown carts. The “NO” column includes e-waste, medical waste (including syringes—a big no-no) milk cartons (due to the wax coating) Styrofoam and plastic bags. Especially plastic bags—they can’t be recycled and we’re using billions of them each year, most of which end up in landfills or in the ocean. The solution is simple: invest a few bucks for reusable grocery bags—it’s way past time to kick the plastic bag addiction. Get detailed brown cart, green cart, compost and other information at: 707.747.0680, or