In-Depth: New California law requires organic recycling starting Jan. 1

Law is part of effort to meet environmental goals
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Posted at 6:03 AM, Jul 01, 2021

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A new law that takes effect on Jan. 1, 2022, will dramatically change what you can and can't recycle in the state of California.

According to SB 1383, signed into law by former Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016, any person or business that creates garbage will have to recycle all their organic food waste.

"It really brings a lot of material under the umbrella of what must be recycled," says Ken Prue, the City of San Diego's Deputy Director of Environmental Services.

Prue says people will no longer be allowed to throw away food scraps or other organic material. Instead, they'll have to go into the green bin currently used for disposing of yard trimmings and other organic waste. He says the city will provide its trash customers a small green bin to keep in the kitchen to make it easier.

"Hopefully, people give it a try, they have a good experience, and then they just start doing it," says Prue.

The new law says organic waste must now be collected every week and taken to a facility to compost it into reusable products. San Diego recently received a $3 million grant to upgrade the Miramar Landfill Greenery to meet the requirements.

Prue says the shift in policy will help divert more than 200,000 pounds of food waste from the landfill. He says food waste makes up around 15% of the materials that get thrown out each year.

He believes keeping all of that out of the landfill will help the environment by eliminating many toxic gases created when food waste decomposes in the dump.

But the benefit will come at a cost.

Under the "People's Ordinance" from 1919, the City of San Diego is required to provide trash services to all residents who live in single-family homes. That means the cost of the new bins, expanded collection, and all of the staff and infrastructure needed to comply with SB 1383 will have to come out of the city's general fund.

Prue says the city has already spent $15 million to buy 240,000 of the small kitchen bins they plan to give to residents.

For people and businesses not covered under the People's Ordinance, the cost of compliance will likely be added to their bill with whichever company picks up the trash.

That means apartment rent, HOA fees, service fees, and even the costs of things you buy could go up.

Prue says many businesses that create food scraps, like restaurants and grocery stores, are already part of the city's robust composting program or food donation program, so they may not see any change. He hopes companies who manage multi-family housing will find a way to absorb the extra costs.

"While they're adding service for this organics, hopefully, they need less service for trash," he says. "That would help offset the cost."

The city will also have to pay the costs of enforcement. At first, Prue says they plan an educational approach to help people change their habits, with "lid flippers" inspecting garbage and leaving "oops notes" where people/businesses don't follow the new law.

Down the road, however, the city will begin to levy fines against rule-breakers. The state could also fine the ctiy if the CalRecycle program believes San Diego is not doing enough to make people follow the rules.

"There will be a very large education component because the whole thing is helping people understand the requirements and getting them on board," says Prue.

Over the next six months, the city and the companies that collect trash will start educational outreach efforts to teach people what they can and can't throw away. Prue hopes it becomes second nature to keep food waste out of the garbage.

"I think it's easier than a lot of people think," he says. "Hopefully, they'll just get in the habit, and in no time, they won't even really think about the fact that they're doing it."