Can Composting Help to Heal the Planet?

By Jane Rogan

Singing Frogs Farm

Cilantro grows at Singing Frogs Farm

With so many places to put our environmental fix-it energy, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. While we are literally experiencing the discouraging facts about global warming, the encouraging news is important progress is being made – particularly in greenhouse gas emission reduction.

The goal of achieving zero waste in California will produce major benefits besides the obvious one of simply reducing waste. This work has brought together natural inter-relationships among waste management, resource recovery, and recycling. The sweet spot in that Venn diagram* is the humble practice of composting.

Achieving Soil Health

Farmers have long been fertilizing and amending soil to enhance their crops. With the increased organization and outreach of the environmental movement, the benefits of composting have elevated its importance in the interest of healing our ailing environment.

Soil health in food production and landscaping is enhanced as a benefit of compost. According to local soil scientist and long-time environmental activist, Will Bakx, we are past the point of exploring and need to execute on our knowledge.

Compost Composite

A Field amended with compost.

Bakx, with his business partner, Alan Siegle, have founded Renewable Sonoma, an organization dedicated to processing organic materials in Sonoma County and targeted at achieving the County’s goal of 80% diversion, on a path to zero waste. Diversion in this sense means diverting organics resources from the landfill and incorporating it an environmentally sound composting operation.

Currently, Renewable Sonoma is negotiating a contract with The Sonoma County Waste Management Agency (SCWMA) to permit, build and operate the future municipal organics processing and composting facility in Sonoma County. The proposed state of the art renewable energy and composting facility would be co-located to the Laguna Treatment Plant on Llano Road, in Santa Rosa.

Cultural Shift

Soil health on an industrial scale goes far beyond our early, simple notions of saving food scraps to amend our soil; although, individual consumer composting at the green can level is still critical.

This is nothing less than a cultural shift. To achieve the County and State’s diversion goals we are competing against the clock and there is a lot to teach and learn.

Fortunately for Sonoma County, Zero Waste is an active program of agencies and volunteers.

Recology, our waste management contractor in Sonoma County, is a County-wide leader in bringing not only the conversation but the mechanism and organization to make significant progress in the race to divert waste and reduce our greenhouse emissions.

It is no small task to improve and expand the composting programs we now have in Sonoma County. While Sonoma County may be one of the more environmentally educated and active populations, the fact is most residents and businesses have only just begun to compost their food scraps.

Even still, many restaurants and commercial properties have not started to divert their organic materials to compost collection yet. Never fear, the Recology Waste Zero Team is on it – they have set up nearly 200 commercial accounts with compost service in Sonoma County in just nine months of operation.

Celia Furber, Recology Waste Zero’s manager, knows that educating the communities Recology serves is imperative to reaching diversion levels in the 80% range, as San Francisco has already achieved.

“One of the most rewarding parts of the job is seeing the results of our efforts in the tonnages – the steady increase in tons going to the compost facilities instead of the landfill,” Furber said.

Renewable Sonoma will bring industrial composting to Sonoma County once again on a larger scale.

“Our farmers need more materials to amend their soil, much of which has been depleted by the fires last year,” Bakx explained. “With the fire, our top soils were lost; organic matter burned away and important topsoil was removed.”

Composting is the most sustainable way to recycle organic material.  It returns nutrients to the soil using organic materials that historically have been thrown away and landfilled only to produce methane.

Here in Sonoma County we are fortunate to have a collaboration of scientists, forward-thinking farmers, and waste management specialists, supported by County and State activists who are in the starting gates to bring a sophisticated composting facility to Sonoma County and use it wisely to create healthy soils and move carbon from the air into the soil.

Renewable Sonoma's composting flow chart

Renewable Sonoma’s composting flow chart

For more information, please go to the links provided below:


Venn diagram (also called primary diagramset diagram or logic diagram) is a diagram that shows all possible logical relations between a finite collection of different sets



Renewable Sonoma is 100% owned by Will Bakx and Alan Siegle. As they have served the County since 1985 as Sonoma Compost, they look forward to continuing to work with and for you to improve our soils and grow vigorous, healthy plants.


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