Is California’s organic waste recycling program failing?

Food scraps are seen in a compost bin at The Slanted Door restaurant on December 10, 2010 in San Francisco, California. One year after the San Francisco Board passed the nation’s toughest recycling law, San Francisco residents have composted more than any other city in the country, with a 200 percent one-year increase in composting. The city also met a landfill diversion goal of a better-than-expected 77 percent, set at 75 percent by 2010, the highest in the nation for any city. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California’s ambitious and expensive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from landfills may itself be headed for the bin.

A state oversight committee is recommending that California suspend implementation of Senate Bill 1383, which requires cities and counties to offer organic waste recycling, because it falls short of its goals, according to a draft report obtained by KTLA.

The law set benchmarks to reduce the amount of organic waste sent to landfill by 50% by 2020 and by 75% by 2025, using 2014 as a baseline.

Instead, only about half of local governments are participating in the program, and the amount of organic waste in landfills has actually increased in recent years, the Little Hoover Commission, which includes current and former politicians and policy experts, said in the draft.

A truck unloads organic waste to be used for composting at the Anaerobic Composter Facility in Woodland, Calif., on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Despite the importance of diverting organic waste, the state not only missed its 2020 goal, it sent one million tons of organic waste over its 2014 baseline to landfills, the report said. At this point, there has not been enough progress to make the 2025 target realistic.

SB 1383 was passed and was signed into law in 2016 to reduce methane emissions related to poor air quality, public health issues and climate change. It didn’t go into effect until January 2022, but the commission found that only about half of California’s 540 local jurisdictions had been prepared by that point, despite the threat of $10,000 a day in fines.

For their part, homeowners are being asked to put food scraps, garden clippings and other organic materials into the bins which are collected alongside their regular trash and recycling, assuming their government offers the service. The material is then converted into products that can be used as compost or fuel.

Among the many obstacles to SB 1383’s success are cost and infrastructure.

For example, the report says that a $100 million anaerobic digester in Perris, California took six years to permit and build.

The demands placed on rural communities, which produce very little organic waste compared to densely populated areas, have not been addressed, the commissioners said.

Many rural communities lack curbside (or sidewalk) garbage collection and paved roads that can accommodate heavy garbage trucks, the report points out. Instead, residents transport their waste themselves to local transfer stations.

The panel also found very limited existing demand for processed biowaste, which lawmakers sought to address in 2016 by requiring local governments to purchase it from state facilities.

A row of bins for garbage collection, recycling and organic waste. (KTLA)

Panel recommends California temporarily suspend SB 1383 until it can do a better job of educating the public about its goals, create reasonable and clear guidelines for implementation, and carve out exemptions for low population counties and low waste consumption.

CalRecycle, the agency that oversees the program, says suspending it, even temporarily, would be a big mistake.

Holding and pausing 1383 would be absolutely, absolutely harmful. We spent nearly half a billion dollars in California to jump-start 1383 in organic recycling, and much of that would have been stopped, Rachel Wagoner, director of CalRecycle, told the committee in May, CalMatters reported. .

The panel, however, says that the problem does not lie with the goals of SB 1383, but only with the current approach to its implementation.

The state must reduce methane emissions from landfills and it must do so in a transparent way that is compatible with its broader climate strategy and the consensus of the Californians it protects, the report said.

The Little Hoover Commission’s final report is expected to be released in early June, its executive director, Ethan Rarick, told KTLA.

State lawmakers will ultimately decide how to proceed.

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