HomeTechMarin Sanitary Service marks 75th anniversary with new technology

Marin Sanitary Service marks 75th anniversary with new technology


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Marking its 75th year of business, Marin Sanitary Service has acquired two new pieces of equipment to prevent tons of food waste and paper recyclables from ending up in landfills.

From establishing the first countywide curbside recycling program in the country in the 1980s to acquiring the new technology, the company continues to lead the way toward a goal of zero waste, said Patty Garbarino, president and chief executive of the family-operated business.

“We’re just very proud to be living in a community that has helped us foster the kind of work that we do and really has put Marin County on the map for waste reduction, diversion and renewable energy,” Garbarino said.

One machine will prevent thousands of tons of expired packaged food from grocery stores and food distributors from entering the landfill each year, said Justin Wilcock, the company’s general operations director.

Installed late last year at the company’s San Rafael center, the new Tiger food depackager separates large loads of prepackaged foods from their containers, using the green waste to produce energy and allowing the service to recycle the packaging.

The machine is a giant centrifuge, spinning rapidly while metallic teeth tear through the cans and packaging to release the food. The food is then filtered through a screen while the cardboard, plastic or metallic packaging comes out of the top.

The green waste is then ground up and shipped to the nearby Central Marin Sanitation Agency to be placed into anaerobic digesters that produce biogas energy.

About 20 tons of packaged foods can be processed every hour, Wilcock said. The company receives about 10 tons from grocery stores and distributors per day.

Wilcock said the machine will not treat packaged food tossed in residential garbage and green waste bins.

“It doesn’t mean you can throw whatever you want in your green bin and it’ll get cleaned up,” Wilcock said.

The other machine will improve the recycling of paper products. Installed in January, the TOMRA optical sorter uses light to determine whether paper products are white or brown and then separates them. Previously, this work was done by hand, Wilcock said. The machine will not replace jobs, Wilcock said.

“It’s not replacing the whole process, it’s just an addition,” Wilcock said. “The whole purpose of all of this is so that the material is good and clean and continues to have markets to recycle.”

Joe Garbarino Jr., chair of the Marin Sanitary Service board and the well-known face of the company, said the new technology is the latest effort by the company over nearly eight decades to divert waste.

“There are still going to be items that will be recycled and try to turn things one way or another to another form of energy,” Garbarino Jr. said. “In the meantime, we’re doing as much recycling as we possibly can do and sell that rather than burying it. Roughly speaking, 60% of what we collect we recycle, and the other 40% goes in a landfill.”

Marin Sanitary Service has 30,000 residential accounts in central Marin and serves about one-third of the county’s population. The business has more 260 employees and about 100 trucks and collects hundreds of tons of garbage, recyclables and organic waste each day.

The company’s roots stretch back a century to a horse-drawn wagon in the streets of San Francisco. In the 1920s, Garbarino Jr.’s father and his uncle started the Scavengers Protective Association. The Italian immigrants used burlap sacks and a wagon to collect and haul away garbage.

Marin Sanitary Service was formed in 1948 by Joe Segale and Guido Zanotti. In 1952, Joe Garbarino Sr. — a cousin of Garbarino Jr. — Ruben Valtierra, Ernie Zappettini and Lorry Marcone joined the company, followed by Garbarino Jr. and Joe Cattaneo in 1955.

“Minimum day was 12 hours,” Garbarino Jr. said. “We weren’t union. We were all co-owners. Nobody went home until the last guy was in.”

In the late 1970s, Garbarino Jr. applied for a $500,000 state grant to launch the nation’s first countywide curbside recycling program, but was initially denied. At the advice of county Supervisor Gary Giacomini, Garbarino Jr. said he traveled by bus to Sacramento with 12 environmentalists to convince state officials to change their minds.

“After two and a half hours they threw their hands up and gave me the $500,000,” Garbarino Jr. said with a laugh.

The waste management industry faces new challenges and mandates to prevent waste from going into landfills. Only about 6% of plastic materials are able to be recycled at Marin Sanitary Service.

“It’s not because people aren’t trying, there just isn’t a market for most of the plastic,” Wilcock said.

In 2017, the Chinese government launched its “Operation National Sword” initiative, which restricted the volume of contaminated recyclables it would be willing to accept. The country now only accepts bales of plastic recyclables that contain 0.5% contamination compared to the 5% contamination that was accepted prior to the policy.

Before the policy was adopted, about a third of recyclables in California were being exported to foreign markets, the majority to China.

With the state of the market, Wilcock said, the company has no plans to move away from dual-stream recycling in which residents have to sort paper from plastic, aluminum and glass. Single-stream recycling, where all recyclables are placed in a single collection bin, increases the chances of material becoming contaminated, Wilcock said.

“That decreases the likelihood of things that should be recycled that should,” he said.

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