By David Jerome
A new state law, SB1383, mandating separation of compostable (“organic”) waste by homes and businesses, takes effect Jan. 1, but it is unlikely to affect Idyllwild. The law includes a number of exemptions jurisdictions (counties and cities) can apply for, including one for areas above 4,500-foot altitude. County officials are expected to complete the waiver application before year’s end.
It is, like most modern laws, long; 131 pages. Its objective is to segregate organic (read biodegradable) waste from the stream heading for landfills. Presently, organics make up about one-third of the material buried. The aim is to reduce this by 75% by 2025, thus reducing the methane from landfills.
By requiring retailers who routinely throw away edible food (grocers) to work with food banks and other food distribution organizations, these groups will be strengthened and waste will be discouraged.
For residents, and for restaurants and other food preparation businesses in affected jurisdictions, the new law will mean a more careful segregation of food waste and food-soiled paper into a separate bin. It also will mean higher fees for trash collection across the state. Many cities have been phasing in new requirements over the last year or more. San Franciscans have been putting their food scraps in green bins since 2009. A 2014 law covered larger commercial producers.
Greg Reyes, program chief of Riverside County Department of Environmental Health, answered the Town Crier’s questions about the new law and its local effects.
TC: How will SB1383 affect Idyllwild?
GR: Minimal impact at this point. The new law allows for an exclusion to the requirements for locations that are at or above 4,500 in elevation. The county intends to pursue that waiver with the state to exclude the Idyllwild area. The waiver application is being handled by another county department, Department of Waste Resources, but I confirmed with them this morning that they plan get to get the application to the state before the end of the year.
TC: Are we a “jurisdiction?”
GR: Since Idyllwild is a not an incorporated area, the Riverside County government is the jurisdiction.
TC: Will commercial waste companies serving restaurants provide these required bins?
GR: Since the general requirements should be waived as noted above, any changes or new service offerings of this type will be at the discretion of the hauler but will not be mandated as in other areas of the county.
TC: Will there be organic waste bins at the transfer station for residents?
GR: That is being discussed with the site operators for Anza and Pinyon, but as noted above, Idyllwild should be exempt from the requirement to provide that service.
TC: What else should commercial or residential customers know?
GR: Any changes in service delivery for commercial accounts or at the transfer station will be preceded by an information campaign to explain those changes. [End]
The organic waste will feed industrial-scale composting digesters to produce “high-quality, marketable recycled products, including compost, renewable natural gas, electricity, and paper.” (calrecycle.ca.gov) Turning it into compost releases fewer greenhouse gases than burying it in landfills, and the methane produced can be used as fuel. Using the compost in agriculture or landscaping results in further carbon sequestration in the soil.
Since methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2), burning it reduces the greenhouse gas (GHG) burden. When comparing methane to CO2, two different numbers are often cited, because methane breaks down in the atmosphere whereas CO2 is stable. Thus, methane is about 85 times as powerful when compared over a 20-year basis, but this changes to around 30 times over 100 years.
Twenty-seven states and DC have at least one recycling mandate. California is the first to include organics. SB1383 was signed into law in 2016, and cities and counties across the state have spent the last four years searching for ways to reduce and recycle this kind of waste. Actual policies, enforcement and fines are largely left up to cities and counties, which in turn may be fined by the state if they fail to meet the requirements. Actual penalties will be fairly easy to avoid for the first two years.
The law includes a paperwork burden for companies collecting waste. They must randomly audit the waste stream to determine how much, by weight, is going “in the wrong bin.” Statewide, employees will be pulling out 200-pound samples from each side (landfill and compost) to determine the level of cross-contamination, keeping records of this, and looking for ways to keep it low. Home composters will not be required to audit their own private piles and heaps. It’s always good to use screens to keep flies and mice out though.
A lengthy section of the law requires jurisdictions to purchase, in amounts corresponding to their populations, materials created from organic waste; gas for transportation fuel, electricity from renewable gas, renewable gas for heating and electricity from biomass, compost and mulch.
SB 619, signed into law in October, allows jurisdictions to seek relief from SB1383 penalties. They must submit (by March 10, 2022) a notification of intent to comply, describe the violations, explain why they cannot comply now (including COVID-related issues) and describe the actions they will take to comply. Penalties may thus be waived until 2023.
In 2018, China, the world’s leading importer of waste for recycling, enacted the National Sword Policy that restricted these imports, in some cases requiring greater purity. This means other countries must either develop technology to pre-clean their garbage or recycle at home.
This has caused recycling rates to drop around the country; in California from 50% in 2014 to 40% in 2018. The state’s goal is 75%, and the new regulation is part of the state’s 2030 Climate Change Strategy.
According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, California is exceeding its ambitious GHG reduction goals; it now emits less that it did in 2006, but the goals for the next 10 years call for a further 40% reduction. This year’s budget includes $60 million in grants for local governments to fund programs to comply with SB1383.