A Better World Is Possible: California Mandates Recycling Of Most Organic Waste Statewide

Photo: CalRecycle

Sources: CalRecycle, California Compost Law 2022 and Civil Eats

As of January 1, 2022, people and organizations throughout California are required to separate organic material, mainly food scraps and yard waste, but also other organic materials from other garbage. Organic waste includes “food, green material, landscape and pruning waste, organic textiles and carpets, lumber, wood, paper products, printing and writing paper, manure, biosolids, digestate, and sludges.”  The law.  SB 1383, requires every jurisdiction to provide organic waste collection services to all residents and businesses. Jurisdictions can select from a variety of organic waste collection services to match their unique communities and local infrastructure, while producing clean streams of organic feedstock that can be recycled into high-quality, marketable recycled products, including compost, renewable natural gas, electricity, and paper. Jurisdictions are required to educate all residents and businesses about collection requirements, including what materials to put in curbside bins. Education to residents and businesses may vary by jurisdiction and educational content may be provided electronically, through hard copy materials, or through direct outreach.

The new requirements are expected to reduce organic waste in landfills by 75% by 2025.  The newly diverted organic waste will be transformed into a variety of recycled products but the state says compost will make up the bulk of the new material given that California produces limited amounts of biogas and compressed recycled natural gas (RNG).

California generates 23 million tons of organic waste every year, including 5 to 6 million tons of food waste, according to CalRecycle, the state agency overseeing the new regulations. As those organics decomposes in landfills, they emit methane, a powerful greenhouse gas with a 25 times greater impact on global warming than carbon dioxide. Organic waste is the third-largest source of methane emissions in the U.S.  The Solana Center for Environmental Innovation estimates that in San Diego alone, the actions included in the law could cut up to 127,000 metric tons of emissions a year and save businesses $20 million in disposal fees. It would also free up 700,000 tons of landfill space annually.

The new law also requires supermarkets and other big food providers to divert as much as a quarter of edible food now destined for dumps to food banks to feed the needy. And it mandates that cities buy products such as mulch and compost, thereby creating new markets for the byproducts made from organic waste.

While the requirements went into effect on January 1, 2022, no fines will be imposed on residents or jurisdictions for failure to comply. In future years, residents may be subject to fines of up to $500/day and jurisdictions will face steep penalties of up to $10,000/day for failing to provide organic waste collection services for residents. The enforcement process requires that CalRecycle provide jurisdictions with a Notice of Violation and gives jurisdictions up to three years to comply with the regulations. 

Read about collection requirements for homes, business and schools here.
Read about what California will do with all of that compost here
Read about some of the implementation challenges here..

A Better World Is Possible is a mostly weekly Indy feature that offers snapshots of creative undertakings, community experiments, innovative municipal projects, and excursions of the imagination that suggest possible interventions for the sundry challenges we face in our communities and as a species.  The feature complements our regular column by Boone Shear,  Becoming Human.  Have you seen creative approaches to community problems or examples of things that other communities do to make life better for their residents that you think we should be talking about?  Send your observations/suggestions to amherstindy@gmail.com. See previous posts here.

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