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What you need to know about the new California composting law

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Californians will ring in the new year with the unfolding of groundbreaking legislation that will change the way they dispose of their organic waste, particularly leftover food and kitchen waste.

Senate Bill 1383 requires all residents and businesses to separate such “green” waste from other garbage, but the program will be phased out to households and businesses over the coming months, with the actual start date varying depending on the location of your home or business.

Fines can be imposed if organic waste is not separated from other waste. However, these fees are not expected to start until 2024. CalRecycle, the state agency overseeing the change, has a lot of information about the new requirements on its website.

Others that offer composting solutions include LA Compost — which provides home composting instructions and also offers community hubs to drop off organic matter — and CompostableLA, which offers home pickup services in some neighborhoods for a fee.

Residents and business people should check with their local governments and waste transport companies to find out the specific rules for their communities. Here are some frequently asked questions about the new requirements with answers from Los Angeles County Public Works and the Los Angeles City Bureau of Sanitation.

Isn’t rubbish the same as rubbish? Why does California law require that we separate organic waste from the rest of our trash?

Scientists have found that organic waste disposed of in traditional landfills decomposes and produces methane, a superpollutant with a global warming effect 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

To slow the progression of global warming, the state wants to divert the material to composting centers or anaerobic digestion plants, where it can help funnel carbon back into the earth or capture natural gas to power garbage trucks, for example.

When do I have to separate my kitchen waste from other waste?

The bio-diversion opening date varies based on where you live. San Francisco, Berkeley, Costa Mesa, and other communities have been recycling kitchen scraps through curbside green garbage cans for years. These bins also hold garden waste.

Los Angeles County public works officials say homes in unincorporated communities will receive notices in the first half of 2022 telling them when and how to separate their food waste. Some LA County businesses already have voluntary food waste recycling, a program that will become mandatory later in the New Year.

In the city of Los Angeles, the Bureau of Sanitation plans to unveil a plan early next year to expand food waste recycling from 18,000 households now in a pilot program to the remaining 730,000 customers. This curbside program should begin next summer. Meanwhile, residents can throw kitchen waste in their regular trash cans to take to the landfill. They also have the opportunity to compost in their yards, although the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the closure of city composting workshops (and associated discounted composting bins).

In March, the Bureau of Sanitation plans to work with a nonprofit to collect leftovers from 25 neighborhood farmers’ markets and composting centers. These locations will be announced later.

What if I live in an apartment building or condominium?

In unincorporated communities in LA County, the rules for multifamily housing are still being worked out. It is expected that at least some waste transport companies will continue to allow food waste to be mixed with other waste and later separated at processing plants so that it can be recycled.

In the city of Los Angeles, multi-family homes managed by service providers under the recycLA program are now encouraged to recycle leftover food. Residents must contact their service provider to subscribe to the program.

Can’t climate-damaging gases also be curbed by reducing food waste?

Yes. Keith Lilley, assistant director of Los Angeles County Public Works, urges residents and businesses to “shop purposefully, store food mindfully, conserve food and learn how to manage surplus food.”

Are there alternatives to removing kitchen and garden waste?

Yes. Leftover food can be composted at home or taken to friends or family who compost, or to a community composting location. LA County is offering free webinars on smartgardening.com to teach residents how to do garden and vermicomposting themselves. Discounted compost bins are sold through the webinars.

What about foods that are still edible? Where should it go?

SB 1383 proposes that the state must recover by 2025 so people can eat 20% of the edible food that would have ended up in landfills. The regulations to achieve this aim focus on supermarkets and other large food suppliers. (The rules don’t force residents or small businesses to recycle edible food.) The excess goes to food banks. Businesses can learn more about donations by visiting FoodDropLA.com.

Will fruit and veg be the only eligible food waste for the green bin once my local garbage service gives the go-ahead?

No. LA County says that “any part of food is acceptable,” including cooked meat, bones, fish, soup, and small amounts of fat. Properly approved anaerobic digesters can break down anything while killing pathogens. City sanitation officials agree that — once their curbside pickup begins — all food waste is acceptable.

In LA, some residents have already thrown leftovers into their existing green yard waste bins, though the Bureau of Sanitation says it’s a no-go and that the kitchen waste is going to landfill. Once the city rolls out its program, it is expected that both food and yard waste will be allowed in the green bins.

What if I run a restaurant and have a lot of fat?

That should go to a cooking oil and fat recycler. LA County lists them here.

Where do I store my kitchen waste and how do I make sure it doesn’t smell?

Local governments and garbage transporters recommend collecting the garbage in kitchen buckets, which both the City and County of LA plan to distribute. Frequently emptying (and cleaning) the buckets should limit odors. Some users say lining with paper towels also soaks up liquid, which can cause a stink. The City of Los Angeles suggests two other odor-reducing techniques: layering food waste with yard waste or freezing food waste in a reusable container before collection day.

Can I be fined if I put my rubbish in the wrong place?

Yes. From 2024, the state law provides for fines for those who contaminate their organic waste. A first offense can cost you $50-$100, third and subsequent offenses up to $500.

LA City Cleanup officials said their “ambassadors” would notify those who don’t comply and issue penalties only as a last resort.

What happens to the kitchen waste that ends up in the garbage disposal in my sink?

LA County wastewater treatment plants have the ability to produce biogas from sewage sludge and food waste. The gas can be burned for electricity or converted into vehicle fuel.

But the bureaucrats who handle your garbage don’t want too much waste down the drain because of the limited sewer capacity. They say it’s more efficient to compost or take away the food waste.

The City of LA recommends that only minor fruit and vegetable waste be sent to landfill.

Where will all this extra food waste go?

Most go to large composting centers or plants that turn it into natural gas. Los Angeles County alone has projected that about 1.9 million tons of food waste is diverted each year. It could take a dozen anaerobic digesters to process it all, at an estimated cost of $840 million.

Who should pay for all this?

You’re. A League of California Cities poll found that most local governments expect garbage collection rates to increase by less than 20%, with 1 in 5 cities saying they expect higher fees. Costa Mesa, an early adopter of green curbside recycling, estimates that monthly rates will have increased by a total of $6.10 to $24.10 per month over a nine-year period through 2023-24.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-12-26/organic-waste-composting-law-2022-recycling What you need to know about the new California composting law

Tom Vazquez

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