Final Report: Systems Approach to Recovery and Reuse of Organic Material Flows in Santa Barbara County to Extract Maximum Value and Eliminate Waste

EPA Grant Number: SU831823
Title: Systems Approach to Recovery and Reuse of Organic Material Flows in Santa Barbara County to Extract Maximum Value and Eliminate Waste
Investigators: Hansen, Gary , Snavely, Mary Jo , Walsh, Albert , Szebert, Alicia , Seto, Betty , Naughton, Brian , Allen, David T. , Fujikawa, Jesse , Samsom, Karel , Ryan, Lee , Massoud, Michael , Wilkinson, Robert , Thompson, Ryan
Institution: University of California - Santa Barbara
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: September 1, 2004 through May 30, 2005
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2004) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Challenge Area - Chemical Safety , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainable and Healthy Communities


Current practices for managing organic waste streams often call for landfill and!or use as low quality animal feed or compost. These represent inferior solutions to waste management, due to the fact that the waste is not treated with a systems approach and the potential value of the waste as a resource input for another product is not captured. In communities that are largely dependent on agricultural productivity, such as Santa Barbara County, sustainable value-oriented solutions to organic waste management are needed. Additionally, some of the current practices in this industry, including the application of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, present human health hazards, damage the environment and jeopardize the future of the local economy.

The goal of this research is to calculate the net social, environmental, and economic benefits of a systems approach to organic waste and resource management in Santa Barbara County. Phase I will focus on the intermediation and reuse of a local organic waste stream, namely spent brewery grain, to produce new high-value products including shiitake and oyster mushrooms, composting redworms and nutrient rich vermicompost. This will be achieved through a series of experiments and research located on the UCSB campus that will be run by a multi-disciplinary group of students and advisors. The increased social, environmental and economic value created, both quantitative and qualitative, will be measured using a comparative methodology of the proposed design, over current conventional practices

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

The goal of the project is to calculate the net social, environmental, and economic benefits of a systems approach to organic waste and resource management in Santa Barbara County. To calculate these benefits, a comparative method was chosen of the proposed design over the current practice in Santa Barbara. The data was collected by various means including laboratory experiments, interviews, and literature research. The findings are categorized into economic, environmental and social benefits, with some benefits covering multiple categories.

To evaluate the benefits of the project, first the current situation in Santa Barbara County had to be evaluated. This base-line scenario would then be used as a benchmark for the project to determine the value added by the proposed project design. Currently, Santa Barbara County has 3 breweries that produce 156,000 pounds of spent grain per year. Brewery interviews indicated that the vast majority of this grain is picked up by waste hauling companies and deposited in the local Tajiguas Landfill. The landfill is projected to reach capacity in the next 15 at which point a new location will have to be found. The county is aggressively seeking waste diversion strategies to achieve a 70% diversion rate by 2010 and has identified organic waste as the largest target to meet this goal, initially focusing on restaurant and other commercial organic waste. In addition to quantifying the organic waste problem, the current local market for organic mushrooms and vermiculture products was analyzed. This was necessary in order to determine to what extent the products and jobs created by the proposed waste management approach could add more value. The demographics of Santa Barbara demonstrate that there is a strong market for health foods, organic produce demand and high per capita income, research for mushrooms found that there are over a half dozen natural foods and chain grocery stores that sell organic shiitake and oyster mushrooms ranging in price from $6 to $10 per pound. In addition, there are 5 farmer’s markets per week where local produce is sold and also many restaurants that feature gourmet mushrooms on their menu. Interviews with farmers and store purchasers revealed that organic mushrooms are shipped from as far away as Pennsylvania with no organic growers currently located in Santa Barbara or neighboring counties. The local market for vermiculture products (composting worms and vermicompost) is in a similar state. Research into suppliers of these products to local nurseries, farms and garden supply stores revealed that there is no local source within a few hundred miles. Retail market prices were determined for both products at $20 per pound for redworms and $5.50 per cubic foot for vermicompost. Lastly, current land use was examined. Over 50% of county land is devoted to agriculture with 58 organic farms including a few urban farms located near the three breweries. Zoning and regulatory laws were obtained and it was found that our project facility could be located without need for extensive permits within a few miles of two breweries.

The economic data concentrated primarily on the value of the products created, jobs created and avoided cost externalities like landfill space and transportation. Data on job creation, and facility costs and size were based on a mushroom growing facility in Oxnard, California and extrapolated to required size based on a full utilization of all 156,000 pounds of spent grain to grow mushrooms. Mushroom experiments demonstrated that it was feasible to grow oyster mushrooms on a spent grain substrate with a biological efficiency of 70% without optimization of the growing conditions, and an industry average of 100% is easily achieved in commercial scale. With a 100% biological efficiency, 156,000 pounds of spent grain could potentially produce an equal weight of 156,000 pounds of fresh mushrooms with an income of $936,000. This would require a 13,000 square foot facility and create 5 full time jobs (7 days per week). The additional space and time and capital required for the vermiculture component is minimal in comparison and could potentially add one more job. Additionally, it was determined that the project would save externalized costs related to transport of waste, importing of non local produce and landfill space with a value in the range of a few thousand dollars per year. These numbers reflect idealized conditions, but it is clear that the vast majority of value is created in the sale of mushrooms and the creation of jobs as compared to the vermiculture and avoided externality costs.

The environmental benefits of the proposed project were evaluated using a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) using International Standards Organization (ISO) guidelines. It was determined that the primary environmental value for the proposed project would come from the avoidance of transportation related pollution due to the hauling of waste to the landfill and importing of non-local produce as well as avoided environmental costs due to landfill use. Six environmental impact indicators were chosen for analysis including land use effects, climate change, human toxicity, photochemical smog, acidification and eutrophication. Standard normalization factors were applied to the resulting indicators to determine a total world impact of the various waste management approaches. The results indicated that the proposed design of growing organic mushrooms followed by vermicomposting of the remaining waste utilizing 100% of the spent grain would create a net environmental benefit over current practices. Primarily this benefit arises from avoided pollution related to the transportation of goods that would be replaced by local sources.

Data regarding the social benefits of the project were the most qualitative and were also closely interrelated with both economic and environmental benefits. The creation of 5 local jobs is both an economic and a social benefit. Likewise, the decrease in transportation pollution and landfill use benefits the environment as well as social health. Additionally, three major social benefits were identified through literature research including health, local production and education. Based on various studies, locally grown organic produce has higher nutritional value due to less processing and shipping and pesticide use. Organic mushrooms have many nutritional benefits including high nutritional content of certain vitamins and a good protein source. Oyster and shiitake mushrooms have also demonstrated effectiveness in lowering cholesterol and destroying disease agents such as small pox in various government sponsored medical studies. Additionally, the use of vermicompost in soil amendment leads to increased microbial activity and nutrient absorption in soil, which in turn creates more nutritious and disease resistant organic crops and produce without the need for chemical fertilizer and pesticides. Local production of goods has many social benefits as well. It has been shown that reduced distances between producer and consumer increases transparency and stewardship of the human-food relationship in the community. Also, local production of food especially increases the community food security and independence. Lastly, the educational benefits to society of this project were measured. The implementation of this project has already resulted in academic course credit for 10 university students. In addition, through public presentations of the results, other students, faculty, project partners and the general community were educated on the alternatives to organic waste management.


The goals of the project as defined were met and the results were successful. It is clear that the proposed design if fully implemented to manage the full quantity of spent grain in Santa Barbara would create more value, economically, environmentally and socially compared to the current practice of landfilling the grain. There are many uncertainties and limitations to the project however that leave in question the scale and feasibility of the absolute value creation. The time and size scale of the project in particular limit to what extent the conclusions of this project are valid. This project was completed in six months and on the scale of about 100 pounds of grain used for the various experiments. The experiments themselves involve biological processes that take a few months to complete and take place on a scale that may not be easily scalable, especially concerning mushroom cultivation. However, useful conclusions can still be reached.

Economically, it is clear that there is potential for a small-scale business involving organic mushroom cultivation and selling in local niches such as the farmer’s markets, upscale restaurants and health food stores. There does not however, appear to be a local market large enough to support the full use of brewery grain to produce 156.000 pounds of mushrooms per year. Concerns of facility costs, energy use and contamination issues involved with scaling up mushroom production were raised not only in this project, but a similar project undertaken by Green Mountain Mycosystems located in Vermont. The scaling up of the vermiculture aspect of the project however appears quite feasible and more robust than the mushroom component. The value created would be much less, but still an improvement over current methods of organic waste management.

Environmentally, the primary benefit of the project appears to come from increased local production of mushrooms and vermiculture products leading to decreased transportation impacts. Though, if it were assumed that vermicompost could replace chemical fertilizers and pesticides on county agriculture land and residential gardens, then there would be additional environmental benefits to this project. Local organic farmers however indicated that vermicompost is not widely used on farms due to high costs. At a smaller level, this project does benefit the environment in avoided landfill space, which is becoming an increasingly important issue for local government as it tries to meet a 70% waste diversion mandate primarily through alternative organic waste management strategies. Environmentally speaking, the most effective implementation of this project would be the vermicompost system since it is able to accommodate almost all forms of organic waste in a scaleable and distributed manner which would reduce transportation to a centralized processing facility.

Socially, this project creates many potential benefits due to increased community involvement and investment on a local level. Local jobs would be created, a more secure and independent food supply would be implemented and more healthy products would be available to the community. Increased local community connections and involvement in the food cycle from production to consumption to waste would lead to more trust and stewardship for the environment and community in general. The most clearly successful social aspect of this project is the educational opportunities it has created. Research projects for students, outreach to local schools, and education of the public through presentations were all very effective. The continuation of this project into Phase II would build on the aspects deemed more feasible and scaleable while continuing to improve those areas that posed more problems. Implementation of the vermicomposting system on a larger scale and accommodating new sources of organic waste appears to be the most likely to succeed as a new venture. Meanwhile, other methods to extract value from the waste should be explored through research projects carried out by students on a continuing basis.

Proposed Phase II objectives and strategies:

The challenge for Phase II utilizes the strengths and improves upon the weaknesses of Phase I design. Phase II will create a large-scale vermicomposting program that utilizes worms to recycle organic waste from local food service businesses and the UCSB dining commons. We will construct 20 4ft x 8ft x 3.5 ft ASUCR vermicomposting bins with a total capacity to compost 80 tons of food waste annually, creating nutrient-rich product to be sold at local nurseries and the farmer’s market. In addition, the student enterprise will hold public workshops to engage and educate the local community about vermicomposting. The modifications in this phase improve upon the sustainability of the project, by addressing our local solid waste problem in a more practical manner. Phase II is designed to handle a larger volume and wider variety of food waste. We are attempting to divert all commercial food waste from entering the landfills. This project conforms to Santa Barbara County’s effort to reduce solid waste by addressing a source of waste material that has yet to be considered by the county. In addition, the outreach and education portions of this phase will create and enhance partnerships within the community. an essential aspect of the sustainability equation. While this phase will have a significant direct impact on the ecological literacy of the community, we also foresee a ripple effect that will spread the “organic waste = food” mentality throughout the larger Santa Barbara area.

Phase II has both practical and research-oriented goals. To reach maximum production and ensure a consistent, high quality product we will collect basic data. We aim to have an annual composting capacity of 4 tons per box. Our goal for outreach is 100 people per year at the workshops, and a vermicomposting program at the local elementary school. All these goals are realistic and easily measurable. Long-term economic success will be measured by the amount of subsidies required for the business to break even. Its long-term continuation and growth is determined by output and outreach, with a goal of 10% annual increase in each short-term projection. When implemented, this project will reduce the waste stream to local landfills, which benefits the environment, the economy, and humans.

Phase II creates a large, community-based project that can serve as a model for other communities. On campus, this is supported by Associated Students Recycling and Associated Students Environmental Affairs Board. In Isla Vista (the community in which we are based), we have made partnerships with the local governing body, the Isla Vista Recreation and Park District, in addition to local food service businesses. We have also received full support from the larger governing body, the County of Santa Barbara. Our outreach constituents include the Isla Vista Elementary School and the Isla Vista Community Relations Committee. While these partnerships are unique to Isla Vista, they are similar in scope to those of other communities, making the replication of this project easily achieved.

Supplemental Keywords:

Waste minimization, agriculture, systemic design, environmentally conscious manufacturing, industrial ecology, vermiculture, organic waste,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Air, Sustainable Industry/Business, POLLUTION PREVENTION, waste reduction, Environmental Chemistry, Sustainable Environment, climate change, Air Pollution Effects, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Atmosphere, environmental monitoring, industrial design for environment, waste minimization, system interaction analyses, alternative products, organic residues, industrial ecology, spent brewery grain, waste management, resource recovery