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Contra Costa Times: A Garden View: Sustaining Sustainability

Mar 2, 2012 | News/Events

When I think of ways to green my life, I rarely think beyond the curb.

Like everyone else, I load up my recycling bins and park them on the street; I leave my chopped grass trimmings on the lawn to return nitrogen to the soil; and I sell our cans and bottles to the recyclers every now and then, assuming they get transformed into other products.

But recently, I received a lesson in what it takes to sustain sustainable operations, learning that it may take a village to raise a child, but it takes almost as many villages to keep the world green.

Ecomulch tour

Last week I was invited to tour Ecomulch’s operation. The company, perched on a tall hill in Martinez, produces thousands of pounds of mulch each year from trees grown in the area. That seems pretty straightforward, but it turns out there is much more to it than that. In fact, Ecomulch is just an essential piece of a recycling wheel.

So here’s how it works. Hamilton Tree Service, a family-owned tree service in Contra Costa County for 55 years, was seeing much of the remains of its work — cut limbs, hewed trees — headed for the landfills. In 2006, Grant Hamilton and his wife, Heather, created Ecomulch to repurpose those wood materials.

Ecomulch produces mulch made from local trees and nothing else. But not everything that comes to the company ends up going through the chipper.

Some trees, because they are diseased or are too acidic, just don’t make good mulch, so they are shipped to a cogeneration plant, where the material is used as fuel to power part of Sacramento County.

Hamilton also finds itself with a number of logs that, while they’d be great in mulch, are of such quality that they could be used to make furniture. Those logs are now diverted to California Urban Lumber, conveniently located just below Ecomulch.

California Urban Lumber is itself a division of JFC Construction, which builds telecommunications towers, does public and private general construction, and works in renewable energy. Bill Ridings runs California Urban and does custom milling and carpentry. The company builds furniture to order, often from logs and trees that Hamilton has removed.

School projects

Recently, John Swett High School in Crockett had to remove some redwoods that bordered the school’s memorial grove. That’s something no one wants to do, but disease and the construction of a music building required it. The school and district worked together with the construction team to remove the trees and find a good use for the lumber. RGM and Associates donated transportation and coordination costs of the logs, and California Urban Lumber milled the trees into lumber at no charge to the school district.

The lumber was delivered this week to the shop class at the school where students, part of the district and local industry’s Careers Academy, will use the wood to build memorial benches and for other projects.

It’s one big, highly functioning circle of sustainability, each company needing the others in order to work at their full potential.

I may not fully understand the route the soda bottle takes to its transformation into carpeting, but I don’t think I’ll ever look at mulch again without seeing how it got to that point.


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