Esther Nio, owner of Esther's German Bakery, said she was "outraged and upset" when city officials and her landlord first told her that $1,000-a day-fine from the city would be levied on her bakery on Old Middlefield Road for every day the bread recycling dumpster was there. She said she was approached by the owner of the dumpster, Imperial Western Products (IWP), which promised to pay for the bread and use it to feed cattle.
The city's garbage contractor doesn't provide recycling for food waste.
"I think it's a huge scandal, what's going on here," said Nio, who also has a store and cafe on San Antonio Road in Los Altos. "This is for sure not green policy. We create less garbage. It's a good cause, it's a no-brainer. Why would the city not allow us to do it?"
The bakery had enough old bread to fill the large dumpster every two weeks, Nio said. It was used for a month and half before the city learned about it.
"The city is telling us to get a bigger garbage containers — that's their solution to it," Nio said in late February.
After being contacted by the Voice, city officials spent a week trying to figure out if the private bread recycling dumpster could be allowed, examining a Supreme Court case and the city's exclusive garbage contract with Recology Mountain View. A decision to allow it was announced on March 8.
"We have determined that as long as IWP is not receiving compensation of any kind from Esther's Bakery, the old bakery goods they are collecting are considered to be valuable materials, not waste (as defined by the Supreme Court decision commonly known as Rancho Mirage) and therefore not subject to Recology's exclusive franchise," said Mountain View's solid waste manager, Lori Topley, in an email sent on March 8.
Imperial Western Products would need a license, which is free, to continue to recycle within the city, Topley said.
Robert Nio, Esther's husband and business partner, said he hoped to work with IWP to obtain the license and continue to recycle the bread from the bakery.
A new garbage contract with Recology takes effect April 27. It allows businesses to recycle food waste beginning July 1, but at a cost yet to be decided by the City Council, Topley said.
"So, in a case like Esther's, if their bakery castoffs are valuable enough that IWP is willing to pay them for them, or take them at no charge, then Esther's is obviously going to see that as a better position than having the city collect it for composting," Topley said. "Most food waste is not valuable, as doing something with it costs money, but apparently there is a market right now to turn old bakery goods into cattle feed, making it a valuable commodity."