Cities must now collect our food waste. The San Diego area is working hard to comply. – Voice of San Diego

Republic Service employees stand near compost heaps at the new composting facility at the Otay landfill on December 10, 2021. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

A new California law is forcing cities to reduce food waste in landfills. To meet this requirement, cities in San Diego are increasing the costs for residents and businesses to launch a new on-the-fly garbage collection program.

The law, SB 1383, aims to reduce the powerful methane gas that warms the planet largely arises from food rotting in the sealed area of ​​a landfill. As the San Diego area is woefully behind in meeting the Jan. 1 deadline to provide organic waste collection to all homes and businesses, a handful of cities have increased their rates in anticipation of the new waste stream. expensive.

Carlsbad has just signed a new contract with the franchise carrier Republic Services to take over waste collection services. Come this summer, residents will pay an additional $ 3.82 per month, an increase of 15%, from $ 24.20 in 2021 to $ 28.02 in 2022. Residents of Carlsbad automatically receive a garbage cart and up. to three recycling and green waste bins, the cost of which is fixed in a single monthly rate. Most of that cost increase is dealing with all of this new organic material, said Jamie Wood, Carlsbad’s director of environmental management.

Now, commercial companies must also stop throwing their food waste in the trash and throw it away with green waste and garden waste that the city already collects. But Carlsbad is lowering the rate of this organic recycling program 20% compared to last year, and instead of increasing the rates on garbage 16 percent. “We want to get people to do the right thing by charging more for waste. It’s kind of like putting a (tax) on gasoline, ”said Wood. “If we make it cheaper to recycle organics, they will. “

Dana Armstrong, seen here on December 10, 2021, is the compost supervisor at the Otay landfill. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Chula Vista, which also contracts with Republic Services, is increasing house rates by nearly $ 3 on the smaller (32-gallon) garbage cart and an additional $ 1 on the other two larger cart options. Encinitas, which contracts with private carrier EDCO, increased residential rates by $ 3.88 per month for recycling organics, a 25% increase.

The California League of Cities, a statewide lobby group for local governments, estimates that 92% of California cities increase solid waste and recycling rates by 1-20% over the next three years to comply with SB 1383.

Not only does each city have to negotiate new tariffs to cover a new waste stream, the region also needs infrastructure that can handle all this food waste, like the giant composting facility atop a landfill mesa. Otay launched by franchise carrier Republic Services. Local governments or private carriers, depending on the terms of the contract, must provide counter bins and large green curbside carts for every apartment, home, restaurant, hotel, and grocery store. And cities and private carriers need to hire new staff to audit every address and figure out who really needs those extra bins, and educate everyone on how to properly recycle food waste in the first place.

The new organic recycling law will cost the state nearly $ 21 billion by 2030, according to a report by CalRecycle, a little more than the expected economic return of 17 billion dollars. Republic Services estimated that the roll-out of the food waste recycling program in Chula Vista alone would cost the city $ 11 million, according to information from the San Diego Union Tribune.

For residents of cities contracting with Republic Services, diverting food waste should be easy: throw food waste in the green bin, formerly reserved for garden waste. The company will transport this waste to its composting facility at the Otay landfill, where workers will hand-pick up stray waste.

Workers must manually pick up the waste from this green waste heap at the Otay landfill. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Then, the food waste mixed with the mulch is placed in long piles. Hoses run through each stack, pumping air via solar power through food waste covered in a camping tent-like substance called GORE-TEX. This GOR-TEX diaper traps all good bacteria and controls the temperature of food waste and juices. When fully built, the new Republic Services composting facility will transform 60,000 tonnes of food waste into rich, organic plant foods per year.

A layer of compost at the Otay landfill is covered with a layer of GORE-TEX, a windproof and waterproof material on December 10, 2021. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

It is not known how the City of San Diego plans to recycle food waste. Four days after the deadline to start recycling food waste, the city of San Diego hasn’t figured out how to comply with state law. The city did not respond to specific questions by email on Tuesday. Ken Prue, Deputy Director of City Environmental Services, told ABC 10 News last week that the city’s composting facility was not ready to handle mixed feed and yard waste. Additionally, supply chain problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have delayed shipments of thousands of green recycling bins, kitchen carts and new transport trucks.

“It’s complicated but we are drawing new territory,” said Risa Baron, spokesperson for Republic Services. “It’s happening all over the state. But the saving grace for all of us is that we have… a two-year window to design and implement these programs before fines are imposed. “

CalRecycle, the state department responsible for recycling and resource recovery, will not begin cracking down on local governments until 2024. These same local governments are responsible for enforcing the law on local businesses that produce food. edibles, such as restaurants and supermarkets. This is also when home and real estate owners could start facing fines if families and renters throw too much food in the trash.

“We really want to focus on behavior change in homes and businesses… That’s really the purpose of state legislation,” said Jessica Toth, who heads the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation, which passes. contracts with cities for education and awareness of composting.

Jurisdictions have known the requirements of SB 1383 since its adoption in 2016. Yet the San Diego area appears to be in a rush. Toth surveyed California’s five largest cities in 2019 and found that San Diego households were left in the dust without any food waste collection. Los Angeles and San Francisco had a separate waste stream; San Jose proposed municipal waste sorting, and Fresno allowed food waste to combine with yard waste.

“It’s a huge amount of infrastructure that is needed because we generate 1.66 million tonnes of organics per year,” Toth said. “There is certainly no financial incentive… the landfill being so cheap. “

The new law requires jurisdictions to create a market for transporters of compost waste created with collected and processed food waste. Cities will be required to purchase some of the compost that their citizens create for landscaping and application on golf courses.

Not only are residents now paying more to have someone dispose of their waste, they are paying to buy back some of it. In other words, throwing food in the trash is like burning money. The best way to save on food waste is to not create it in the first place, Toth said.

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