How many times have you made the car trip from North County south to the coast on Highway 101? Probably more than you can count.

How many times have you tooled along 101 just below Gaviota, enjoyed the hill and canyon vistas on the non-ocean side of the highway, and thought, gee, there’s a giant landfill just over that hill? Probably never, unless you have an abiding interest in garbage or public utilities operations.

But the Tajiguas Landfill, a Santa Barbara County operation, is there nonetheless — and it’s about to get a few years of extra life.

The extender’s technical name is the Tajiguas ReSource Recovery Project, which actually will be a $130-million-plus recycling facility that has been on the drawing boards for a decade, and in construction for the past six months. When fully operational, the facility will divert 60 percent of the waste that would have been buried at the adjacent landfill, bringing the overall diversion rate to about 85 percent.

The project also will reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions by an amount equal to the exhaust emissions of 28,000-plus vehicles a year and trash conversion will generate enough electric energy to power about 2,000 homes.

In other words, welcome to the county’s energy future, which should have started soon after the decision to launch the project a decade ago. On the other hand, elected officials aren’t widely known for moving much faster than a snail’s pace.

So, where do we sign up? Folks living in and creating trash in the far North County won’t be in on this foray into the future. Santa Maria’s solid waste goes to the local Regional Landfill. The stuff that will be transported to the new Tajiguas site is mostly from South County, and the Santa Ynez and Cuyama valleys.

But the Tajiguas project definitely is a step into a future that we will all be taking, eventually, because simply burying solid waste will only work until the burying sites are turned into ski slopes.

The Tajiguas project comes at at interesting time with regard to the international nature of recycling. The ongoing trade war between the Trump administration and America’s top trading partner, China, focuses more attention on China’s recent decision to stop buying America’s trash, in large part because the trash we generate is too contaminated with organic materials.

Local officials believe the Tajiguas project will solve that problem through state-of-the-art sorting processes using infrared scanning technology. But even the bio-materials will be used in a composting facility at Tajiguas that produces biogas, which will be used to generate the aforementioned 5 megawatts of electric power.

All that, in addition to extending the lifespan of the Tajiguas Landfill from an estimated eight more years, to possibly 20 years. That alone kicks the can down the road for policy makers to find a secondary solid waste disposal site.

If our leaders do what they’re elected to do, within that 20-year time frame they should be able to reach some decisions on moving the waste problem from filling holes in the ground, to generating recycled products and electric power, while simultaneously cleaning the air we breathe. We just don’t see how that’s not a win/win/win situation.

As horizons close in on finite energy resources, we all need to start thinking outside traditional boundaries, and about shaping a future in which only a tiny fraction of what we once considered throw-away trash is buried on increasingly more valuable land, and is instead used to benefit mankind.


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