Thursday, March 21, 2019

Answer: Where does your recycling go... really??


 I bet you're wondering what happened.  


Me too.  This took a LOT longer than expected... 


When I started, I wasn't sure if this would be easy or difficult...It's not obvious where you'd begin searching for this information.  


Luckily, for me at least, finding out where my trash and recycling goes is fairly straightforward.  So I thought this would be about a 30 minute search.  And it was. 


At least until you start to look for the rest of the story...  



Trash and Recycling pickup in Palo Alto. 
Green is compostable, blue is recyclable, black is trash


The Challenge for this week was: 


Where does YOUR recycling go?  How much of the stuff you carefully put into the recycling bins actually makes it into a recycled product vs. into a landfill? 

I started with the simplest query I could think of: 


     [ Palo Alto trash recycling ] 


That led to a bunch of results, including web pages from the City's official website that told me that the official trash-collection and recycling service is "Greenwaste of Palo Alto." I also learned that Stanford has their own program of recycling and trash management.  (Why do I care?  Because I wonder if my city and Stanford have a coordinated trash plan.  If not, they probably have very similar solutions.  If they don't, that would be interesting.)  


But I'd like to understand what Greenwaste's story of trash management is in contrast to what the City of Palo Alto thinks is happening.  That is, I'd like to find two different sources of information about trash.  (Yes, I realize this is all trash-talk, but you see my point!  Don't accept just one story about what's going on.) 


To do this efficiently I opened up TWO different browser windows.  One is for my searches having to do with Greenwaste, and the other having to do with things I find from the City of Palo Alto.  


In the first browser I searched for: 


     [ City of Palo Alto trash recycling ] 


(I added the "City of" terms because I learned that the city always puts "City of Palo Alto" on their documents, and I wanted to tilt the results towards official documents.) 


I then opened a bunch of tabs to follow up on links that I found in the City's website.  (See all the green tabs across the top?  Each of those is another page on the City's website.)  





At the bottom you can see the link to Greenwasteofpaloalto.com -- that's the link I opened in the second browser window.  Basically, each of my two browser windows are on a specific topic--the first one is all about recycling in Palo Alto, while the second one is all about GreenWaste, the company.  But naturally, as you search, new topics become relevant at different phases of your research.   I usually use different windows to group related topics together.   


So here (below), after just a couple of minutes is the second browser window, the one originally aimed at GreenWaste.  As you can see, a few new topics popped up here on the right side.  (Important point: you don't have to keep the browser tabs clean / pure.  They're just a temporary organizing system.  Use them as they work to keep things organized for you.)  





Notice that I found a link on the Greenwaste site that pointed back to the City's website (the second tab from the right side.)  That's a link to the City's "Zero Waste" program which is useful because that page connected me with the City's 2018 Zero Waste Plan!  

Reading through that document, I see that the City 



"...contracts with GreenWaste of Palo Alto, Inc. (GreenWaste) to provide comprehensive recycling and organics collection to all residential and commercial customers in Palo Alto...  recyclable materials are processed at the GreenWaste Material Recovery Facility where commodities are segregated and sold to domestic and international markets. Organic materials are processed at the Zero Waste Energy Development Corporation anaerobic digestion facility which produces renewable energy to operate the facility. Excess energy produced at the facility is sold to the power grid. The materials leftover from the digestion process are further composted at the Z-Best compost facility. The City also partners with the cities of Mountain View and Sunnyvale on the Sunnyvale Materials Recovery and Transfer Station (SMaRT Station). The SMaRT Station processes mixed garbage from Palo Alto and recovers recyclable and compostable materials that would have otherwise gone to landfill."

However, this notes that the City has "...contracts with GreenWaste, the Sunnyvale Materials Recovery Station (SMaRT), and Waste Management (Kirby Canyon Landfill) all expire in the Fall of 2021."  


This is getting a little confusing.  When I start to get too much information, I start making lists and drawing out diagrams to keep things clear in my mind.  


Laying out all of the players here in a list:  


1. GreenwasteOfPaloAlto the company; 2765 Lafayette St., Santa Clara, CA)  runs the trucks and staff that picks up everything and delivers it to one of.. 
2. Greenwaste Material Recovery Facility (MRF) 1500 Berger Dr, San Jose, CA. This is where trash and recycling, stuff that's all blended together, get sorted out.  They separate cardboard, glass, aluminum and different plastics into different piles.  These piles are baled and sent to processors to produce new products.  This plant recovers over 95% of the material it processes.  (This leaves me with a big question: What do the downstream "processors" do with the cardboard, glass, etc.? Do they actually recycle it?  We'll deal with that later.) 
3. Zero Waste Energy Development Corporation  (ZWEDC)  685 Los Esteros Rd., San Jose, CA. This is for anaerobic digestion and power creation from "digestible materials." They create compost and methane that they use to power the facility and "sell it into the power grid."   (Another big question:  Does this use up 100% of all digestable materials? Where do they get them from? From GreenwasteOfPaloAlto?  And how much electrical power do they actually generate?)  
4. Z-Best compost facility (ZBCF) - is for clearly compostable materials. 980 State Highway 25, Gilroy, CA.  Yet another question--what's the difference between ZWEDC and Z-Best (aside from location)?  How do "digestables" differ from "compostables"? Seems like most of ZBCF's input comes from ZWEDC.  Are there a line of trucks going from ZWEDC to ZBCF?
5. Zanker Material Processing Facility (ZMPF) - 675 Los Esteros Road, San Jose, CA (next door to the ZWEDC). They separate the materials that come in.
6.  Sunnyvale Materials Recovery and Transfer Station  (SMaRT)-- which ALSO sorts out recyclable materials and compostables.  But the staff report I found on the City's website says that the SMaRT station only takes garbage materials.   But isn't that what the Greenwaste Material Recovery Facility (MRF) does?   The plan says "The SMaRT Station processes mixed garbage from Palo Alto and recovers recyclable and compostable materials that would have otherwise gone to landfill."   Like what?  Does GreenWaste (the folks who pick up our trash) actually deliver to the SMaRT station, or does it all go to the GreenWaste MRF?  
7.  Zanker Road Recycling (aka Zanker Road Landfill)  705 Los Esteros Rd, San Jose, CA.  This is the Zanker landfill site, run by GreenWaste.  Most of the GreenWaste unrecyclable trash ends up here.  From the trash stream they get, they extract more organics to make compost, mulches, soil amendments, and even aggregates (base rock, sand, drain rock) from the stuff we send them.   You can see the landfill pile behind the recycling center.  






8.  Kirby Canyon Landfill.  910 Coyote Creek Golf Drive, Morgan Hill, CA  Operated by Waste Management Solutions Inc., they run a set of 12 different landfills in California (and more across the country).  Kirby Canyon is the place where the non-recyclable and non-compostable trash ends up.  



Kirby Canyon Landfill way south of Palo Alto, near Morgan Hill, CA.



So... we have 8 players here.  And as you see, I have more questions now that when I started.  I have a lot of new questions, so I'm going to pick one and focus on that:  Where do the plastic (recyclable) bottles go?   

My research is all happening in a news environment where the price of recycled materials is dropping, and multiple cities are now not actually recycling their waste, but just dumping it in a landfill... even though they claim to be recycling.  (See these articles:  Pensacola, FL fakes their recycling; Bethel Park and Erie County, Pennsylvania; Candler County, Georgia; and St. Albert, Canada all no longer recycle glasscities in Arizona no longer recycling; etc. Even cities close to Palo Alto are having real problems with their recycling streams, they're sending more and more to landfills.)    

The big problem is that cities in the US have been sending their recycling to China for years, and late in 2018 China stopped accepting most US recyclables.  (See WasteDive's data on the changes in China's policy.  They're a waste industry site that collects industry news, so they're pretty up-to-date on changes.)  

The bottom line here is that collecting this information took me a LONG time.  So far, I've probably spent 9 hours on this Challenge.  

Why is it so complicated?  Largely because the websites are incredibly messy.  There's an convoluted corporate structure (see all of the Zanker sites above) and conflicting reports about who does what.  I'm a pretty compulsive and careful notetaker, but after I filled up two large browser windows and several sheets of paper, it's still a mess!  

There's also a huge problem with out-of-date information (old websites that are still active, but are years out of date... but their last update date information isn't really obvious).  There are also lots of not-yet-updated city content (e.g., the City of Palo Alto, which has a lot more information than they haven't updated in quite a while).  

What's a SearchResearcher to do in a situation like this?  

A:  Keep track of as much as possible, and when it gets too complicated, you need to start acting like an investigative reporter.  I have my browser windows and a large Google Doc with links pointing to everything.  But to help me organize all of this stuff I use a few sheets of paper with notes, boxes, arrows, and numbers.  

I've been doing that, and will report on what I find in the next update to this very complicated Challenge!   (Foreshadowing: It's not a tidy Challenge, but it's extraordinarily interesting.)  

Search Lessons


1.  When online research gets too complicated, you've got to start doing the offline research quest.  Take notes, write down names, places, and contracts.  Follow the money.  Phone calls coming up!  


Stay tuned.  This isn't over yet.  I've just begun!  

Search on! 



Thursday, March 7, 2019

Delay of game... about where your trash goes...


So.... 



... where DOES the trash go??? 

I was writing up my solution about the trash / recycling question.  I'd read lots of documents, tons of tales, reads of city reports, and was just about to hit publish.

But then I paused.  

I found four different places where the recycling goes and where the trash ends up.  I realized that 3 out of the 4 made sense, but I couldn't understand the fourth destination.  What went there?  

As I was writing, I got stuck with a simple question: What DOES that fourth trash/recycling site take in?  I know it's a real place (I've actually gone on runs past the place), and I know it's for recycling... but does any of MY trash go there? It's got a contract with my city, it's close to the city, but I couldn't tell.  I did not know what to write.  

I'd been working on this for a few hours, carefully documenting my research, but as I went back over my documents, I could NOT find the answer.  Huh. 

So.... 

... I ran out of time to finish my writeup this week.  I'll have time next week, so stay tuned for my update post early next week.  I'll tell you what I did, how I noticed the problem, and what I did to get around it.  

I admit that I thought this would be a fairly simple story.  

But the great thing about doing SearchResearch is that even simple things sometimes have untold depths.  (I love these kind of unexpectedly complex issues that come up!)  

Keep searching!!  


Wednesday, February 27, 2019

SearchResearch Challenge (2/27/19): Where does your recycling go... really??


Where does your recycling go... really??  

A recent spate of stories about how lots of supposedly recycled stuff actually ends up in the trash (NPR storyNERC storyWired story) made me start wondering about where my trash and recycling really REALLY goes.  

In my city (Palo Alto, CA), all of my neighbors and I religiously separate our compost from our recyclables and trash.  On Thursday morning, we set out the big plastic containers for the trucks to come by... 


.... and pick up the contents--green is compost, black is trash, blue is recycling (single-stream)  ....  




.... and.... then... what happens? 

Our SearchResearch Challenge for this week is simple, but possibly tricky:  

Where does YOUR recycling go?  How much of the stuff you carefully put into the recycling bins actually makes it into a recycled product vs. into a landfill? 


From an SRS point of view, the question is how can you find out??  It's very possible that the trash/recycling organization has a page about what their practices are, but how do you fact-check what they say?  How do you really know??   

I'm curious about what happens where you live.  How much of our "recycling" actually ends up being recycled (as opposed to being put into a landfill or being burned)?  

Can you do the research for your town / city / village and let us know?  (And, as always, be sure to tell us HOW to figured this out!  Where you able to do it all via online research methods??)  

Search on!  





Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Answer: What's the story... of these ruined buildings?


Hope you enjoyed the drone video... 

.
.. as I said, it was a bit of a surprise to discover those old buildings suddenly appearing in my camera's view!  



round building lost in Napa






















As you can see from the image of the round building just above and the video below (link to the YouTube video), there are quite a few buildings up this remote Napa canyon.  They're just past the stone gates--out of sight from the road, and out of mind of the good people of Napa.  



As you watch the video you see what looks like a long, rectangular building that seems a little like a castle, complete with crenelation.  Near to that is a rather large circular building that seems like it was once several stories tall.  


This drone flight posed a mystery for me:  What's going on here?  Or maybe, what was going on here?  



What's the story with these buildings?

In particular, what's the story of that large, round building?  



I was impressed with how quickly the SRS Regulars were able to figure this out.  


Judith used Image Search, which I admit I didn't try because I didn't think anyone else would have photographed this place.  (How wrong was that?!)  

As Kate (and others found), a search for [ Napa valley castle] isn't very productive.  Turns out there are multiple castles (or castle-like objects) in Napa!  So we need something a bit more discriminating.  

What worked best for me was a simple descriptive search with a place name, like this: 

     [ Napa circular ruined building ]  

(Other simple descriptive queries work just as well.  One Regular Reader used  [ Napa valley ruins historical ] and got the same results.)  

Looking at Images with this query fairly quickly led me to Napa Soda Springs as a place name.  Then, a search on Google Maps for [ Napa Soda Springs ] gave me this image of the grounds... complete with circular building.  


You can see the circular building in the satellite view of the springs, along with the crenellated buildings.  Note also the Wikipedia link to Napa Soda Springs, which tells us that this was ALSO called "Jacksons Napa Soda Springs."

Now that we've located it, what's the story of this place?   In a case like this, where I don't know much, I start with a very open query:  

     [ Napa Soda Springs ruins ]     or    [ Napa Soda Springs history ] 

In these queries, the terms ruins and history are context terms.  That is, extra terms that describe the kind of result you're looking for in the search.  

Here's that SERP:  



These results are fascinating:  The first hit "Napa Soda Springs" takes you to ExploreNapa.org (a local history and Napa Valley promotion site), with a fairly extensive history.  The whole page about Napa Soda Springs is worth a read, but here's my distillation of what they say: 

1855,  27 springs of mineral rich cold water were found about seven miles north of Napa City by Amos Buckman.   
July 1856, the first resort hotel had opened at the springs, owned by San Francisco lawyer Eugene Sullivan and run by W. Allen
1860, the earliest known ad promoting the water at the spa appeared in the Napa Reporter. The newspaper gave regular updates about the legal battle during 1861. 
1861, the newspaper reported that while Buckman was away discussing his case with regional legal authorities, J.H. Wood and companions attacked Mrs. Buckman and workers at the springs, beat them, and destroyed the bottling works. Wood and his associates were each sentenced to a $75 fine or 35 days in jail.
1862, arsonists struck the bottling works operated by Whitney and Wood. Restored to working within a few months.  
1872,  Dr. J. Henry Wood sold the Soda Springs property to Colonel J.P. Jackson for $120,000.  
1874, Jackson had built the place into a health and pleasure resort. Visitors could bowl, play tennis or billiards. They could hunt, fish, ride horses, or stroll among the olive and almond, citrus and apple trees. The grounds were over one hundred acres, with twelve miles of “pleasant walks through the hills and canyons.”
April 21, 1877, the resort introduced the Rotunda, a 75 foot high circular building topped by a glass cupola. There were two stories of outside rooms and a large interior drawing and reading room, lighted from the dome shaped roof by a sixteen foot chandelier. 
1881, the resort opened to overnight guests.
1884, many changes and improvements at the springs, including the Tower House, Ivy House, Music Hall, Garden House, clubhouse and pagoda.  
1889, The Register reported that Colonel Jackson’s new residence, Bellevue, was almost done, as was the new swimming pool, 150 by 50 feet, situated just below the lawn tennis courts. 
September 26, 1900 Colonel Jackson suddenly died, leaving the property to his wife, marking the start of a long, slow decline.  

In 1914 the First World War, following shortly by Prohibition in 1919 led to the closing of its doors to guests. Napa Soda (aka “Jackson’s Napa Soda” after John Jackson bought the place) continued to be sold through the Second World War, mostly through its outlet in San Francisco.  The site itself was burned in an arson fire (again!) in the early 1960s.  

Looking for a bit more context, I searched for "Napa Soda Springs" in both the Library of Congress Chronicling America (archival newspapers collection) and in Google's Newspaper Archive (available under Google Books--click on the "Newspapers" tab under Tools).  In both cases I found LOTS of articles from the 1860s onward.  

In 1888, Napa Soda Springs was still mentioned among the "leading resorts of California" in the Boston Evening Transcript (Oct 8, 1888).   

I noticed that doing a search for "Napa Soda Springs" gives lots of results up to about 1890.  After that search for "Jackson's Napa Soda" gives more results.  

Doing this kind of search in Google Books leads to all kinds of interesting results, including books like Mines and mineral resources of the counties of Colusa, Glenn, Lake, Marin, Napa, Solano, Sonoma, Yolo.  (Bradley, W. W., and California State Mining Bureau,
1915.  California State Printing Office.) 

Including this excellent photo of the Rotunda: 

From: Mines and Mineral Resources... (1915) 

While we're at it, what other resources can we find?  

Checking Google Images for [ Napa Soda Springs ruins ] leads to a great assortment of images, both ruined, and when it was in full flower... 


From this SERP, you can see the interior of the Rotunda as it was: 

Courtesy of the Napa County Historical Society

Including a nice exterior shot that was captured as a colorized postcard: 


And, interestingly enough, a YouTube video that shows a hoop dancer moving around through the ruins as they are today.  (I really hadn't expected that.)  


From that video we can grab a frame that shows the Rotunda as it is now, albeit with a hoop dancer in front. 



Perhaps the most surprising find (for me) was when I was glancing through the collected Napa Soda Springs images and finding Napa Soda Springs bottles for sale!  That made me think of searching on eBay for "Napa Soda."  I was really somewhat flabbergasted by what I found... page after page of artifacts from the glory era of Napa Soda Springs--photos, postcards, bottles, crates, and ice picks!  

A few of the items for sale on eBay from the Napa Soda Springs


I could go on and on with the fascinating story of Napa Soda Springs.  There are lots of images and stories out there, but here's the one I like best, showing an overview of the resort in its prime.  

Courtesy Napa County Historical Society showing the music hall and cottages.  
And there are stories, such as the time President Benjamin Harrison stayed at the resort which was then owned / operated by John Jackson.  Sure, Napa Soda Springs was famous, but enough to attract a sitting president?  

You have to know that John Jackson worked in the law offices of former Congressman Bellamy Storer.. along with the future President Benjamin Harrison.  Forty years later, Harrison would come to visit his longtime friend Jackson at his stylish resort in the hills above the Napa Valley, luxuriating the spring waters.  

So...what's the story?   

The Napa springs were discovered in 1855, then developed into a fairly famous resort that had extensive grounds and buildings. There were music rooms, a dance floor, a pagoda, spring houses, and buildings including the fabulous Rotunda, 75 feet high with a glass cupola at the top. It was the quintessence of a Victorian-era resort.  

In the early 1900s it fell into decline, and is now mostly just moody and remote abandoned buildings.  The magic isn't gone, but very different than what it once was. 

It all ended when Napa Soda Company gave up in Napa and moved to San Francisco.  (This notice is from the 1920 edition of The Stirring Rod, Volume 7, 1920.)  





Search Lessons 


1.  Even simple descriptions can work well. Much to my surprise, the obvious queries describing what you could see in the drone video actually led to useful results!  Simple is good.    

2.  Start with an open-ended query and see what you can learn.  You should dive into the topic ONLY after you've done a broad survey.  (I spent a lot of time looking at articles about the place before zeroing in on specific topics.) 

3.  Use multiple resources.  In this case, both a Map of the area was useful (for the place name "Soda Springs") and the Newspaper archives to give a historical context to the site.  

4.  When searching for history, consider using Books as a resource.  I didn't go into much detail here, but there are a LOT of mentions of Napa Soda Springs in various books, including a great report from the California Mining Department that talk about the water from the springs as “… series of chalybeate [i.e., containing iron salts] springs…with “Lemon” at 66F (flow, 1 gallon in 5 minutes); “Old Bottling House” spring, 67F (1 flow gallon in 2 minutes)… and “Pagoda” spring at 66F.  The last two have considerable excess gas (CO2).”   

5. Consider other sources than plain Google when dealing with a manufacturer.  I was surprised to find Napa Soda bottles for sale on eBay.  I spotted them first on the Images SERP, but when I started searching, I found hundreds of artifacts and articles (and endless postcards), some with intriguing notes from family members visiting Napa Soda Springs in its heyday.  



Hope you enjoyed this romp into history.  

Search on!  




Wednesday, February 13, 2019

SearchResearch Challenge (2/13/19): What's the story... of these ruined buildings?


Last week I was visiting Napa Valley... 


... and since it was a beautiful spring day, I went out for a bit of drone flying.  


I drove around for a bit, knowing full well that there are lots of rural roads that are dead ends, going part way up into the hills and then abruptly stopping.   I figured that I could pause for a few minutes of flying and get some nice aerial shots of the valley.  



Napa Valley in the spring.  Vineyards on the left and right, pasture in the middle.  


I was a bit surprised when the dead end road turned out to have two large stone gate posts.  That looked interesting, but I didn't think much of it until I started to fly my drone up the small canyon and discovered a fairly large cluster of buildings that had been long abandoned and fallen into ruin.  That was a surprise.  I was in a very rural part of Napa--what was this doing here?  




round building lost in Napa






















As you can see from the image of the round building just above and the video below (link to the YouTube video), there are quite a set of buildings up this remote Napa canyon.  They're just past the stone gates--out of sight from the road, and out of mind of the good people of Napa.  


As you watch the video you see what looks like a long, rectangular building that seems a little like a castle, complete with crenelation.  Near to that is a rather large circular building that seems like it was once several stories tall.  


This spontaneous drone flight posed a mystery for me:  What's going on here?  



What's the story with these buildings? 

In particular, what's the story of that large, round building?  



The drone didn't have any EXIF metadata, so there's no map data here to share.  


However, I found that if you work just with what you see, you too can figure out the backstory here.  


What / Why / How did these buildings come to be here?  


The story I found is fascinating and deserves to be better known.  But when I ask around, I find that almost nobody in Napa or in the rest of California knows anything about this.  


Can you uncover the story here?  


Let us know what you find out... and as importantly, HOW you found it out!  


Search on!