California’s new composting law begins January 1st. How to recycle your leftovers


Starting Jan. 1, a new law requires Californians to recycle their leftover food and other leftovers instead of tossing that container of flaky strawberries in the trash.

Senate Bill 1383 requires you to throw organic matter into bins that you use for other “green” waste, such as yard waste, lawn clippings, and leaves. This is part of a larger effort to reduce short-lived climate pollutants (including methane) and divert organic waste from landfills back into the soil as compost or mulch.

If you’re not sure how to start recycling food waste, here are some tips.

Food that can be recycled

  • Coffee grounds, coffee filters and non-nylon tea bags
  • Fruit and vegetable waste (even the moldy parts)
  • eggshells
  • Used/dirty paper food containers
  • pulp
  • paper towels and handkerchiefs
  • paper plates

Some cities accept more groceries. For example, Santa Monica also accepts meat, seafood offal, and dairy. Contact your local municipality for an accurate list of approved foods that can be recycled.

The bill directs municipalities to provide organic waste collection services to all residents and businesses. Some Southern California cities — Santa Monica, El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Rolling Hills, and Costa Mesa — already have a program. Others have pilot programs or are preparing to implement new ones by January 1st.

To find out what collection services your municipality offers, call or visit the website of your city, public works department, sewage bureau, or department responsible for waste collection.

The City of Los Angeles is currently conducting a food waste pilot program with 18,000 households. Residents can throw their food waste in the green bin for collection along with yard waste, said Gerry Villalobos, an environmental specialist with the Bureau of Sanitation.

Other options

Compostable LA is a female and BIPOC owned food waste pickup service. Co-owners Monique Figueiredo and Jamie Renee Williams have developed a subscription-based service that allows you to choose the frequency of garbage collection. Your team delivers your waste to their nonprofit partner, LA Compost.

LA compost is a non-profit organization that manages regional composting centers and community drop-off sites with community partners. It also offers composting training on its website and has a map of local composting sites available for donations.

orange compost charges $20 monthly for grocery waste pickups from Anaheim, Fullerton, Orange, and Santa Ana residents.

Farmers Markets: Figueiredo and Williams suggest looking at your local farmers’ markets for a compost drop-off stand that can be managed by a local organization or farmer.

Community Gardens: Figueiredo and Williams said community gardens often have a small space for community composting.

Make your own: If there isn’t already a composting site, talk to your friends and neighbors about starting one.

Recycling in your home

Recycling food waste at home is easy, Figueiredo and Williams said. They recommend starting with separating your vegetable and fruit waste.

Some cities offer a free or purchasable workbench composting bin. You can also store your waste in a reusable Tupperware. Just make sure it has a lid.

To ward off odors, Villalobos says, you can layer the food with sawdust or line it with paper towels. You can also put the container in the fridge or freezer.

“The simplest method is putting [the scraps] in a brown paper bag and put it in your freezer,” Williams said. “And then figure out where that’s supposed to go, like the farmer’s market.”

compost in your garden

You can buy a compost bin from a store or make one yourself. Los Angeles County Public Works sells up to two backyard compost bins per household for $40 each, or vermicompost bins for $65 each. Worm containers include African red worms, a common compost worm that processes large amounts of organic matter.

If you decide to put compost bins in your yard, County Public Works advises against adding meat, dairy, or processed foods, as these could attract animals. If you’re concerned about rodents getting into the trash can, the department suggests lining the bottom of the trash can with hardware cloth.

Villalobos said caring for a compost bin isn’t difficult, but care must be taken. Mix it up regularly and layer your food scraps with yard waste.

“It can take a while before you have a good amount of compost to harvest to put in your flower beds,” he said. “If you don’t have an odor or bug problem, you’re doing a good job.” California’s new composting law begins January 1st. How to recycle your leftovers

Tom Vazquez

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