What you need to know about California’s new compost law?

A pumpkin represents other yard waste at an anaerobic processing facility in Woodland, California. Photo: Rich Pedroncelli (AP)

California kicked off 2022 with the implementation of a groundbreaking composting law. Starting this month, everyone in the state must begin composting food scraps and other materials in an effort to cut methane emissions. It’s a big change for many cities and consumers in the most populous state in the US, but there are still many hurdles to meet California’s high composting goals.

Food waste, which creates methane when it decomposes in landfills, is a major problem in California. Half of the waste that eventually ends up in California landfills is food waste and other compostable material like cardboard and yard waste. Then 20% of California’s methane emissions come from all this stuff breaking down in landfills.

The state’s new composting regulations aim to reduce the amount of compostable items that end up in landfills by 75% by 2025, making it the second state in the country to meet a composting requirement. (Vermont prohibited compostable materials landfills by 2020, although with only 625,000 residents it is a long way from the magnitude of the proposed changes in California.) If the state meets its 2025 target, it would be the equivalent of Taking 1.7 million cars off the road with fewer emissions.

The Composting Scheme Act, SB 1383, regulates the reduction of short-lived climate pollutants as a whole, including methane. The mandates for composting and other initiatives set forth in SB 1383 were effectively returned in 2016 under the then government. Jerry Brown. However, it went into effect starting this year by requiring cities to have some sort of plan. Composting programs will roll out in the coming months, and cities could face fines of up to $10,000 a day in the future for not properly keeping food waste out of landfills. Despite the long run, many cities have applied for a waiver to give them an extension to get their programs up and running.

The law requires composting programs to be run at the jurisdictional level, meaning the rollout across the state can be quite uneven. Some cities, such as San Francisco and Berkeley, already offer sidewalk compost bins for kitchen and yard waste. Los Angeles is conducting pilot programs for roadside pick-ups in some neighborhoods it hopes to expand from 18,000 homes to an additional 730,000 single-family homes by next summer.

Michael Martinez, the founder and executive director of the nonprofit LA Compost, said in an email that the city “has had a successful backyard composting program for several years,” manages community drop-off locations, and has sought to establish how composting is done in the community. city ​​”could realistically happen.”

“Education will be key, and I can imagine the rollout will take a few years, but the good news is that composting services will soon be offered to everyone in the city of LA,” he said.

There are some major obstacles in the way. Building a composting infrastructure will be a big financial hill to climb, especially given that SB 1383 is not providing funding for it. Lawmakers gave CalRecycle, California’s state recycling agency, $170 million for composting in 2021 and 2022, of which $60 million was distributed among cities to help them jump-start their programs. (The League of California Cities, which represents much of the state’s nearly 500 cities, had asked for a much higher $225 million in a letter to lawmakers last year.)

CalRecycle estimates that more than 100 new composting facilities will need to be built around the state to meet the goals set out in SB 1383. The cost of doing so could run into the tens of billions of dollars, CalRecycle’s director Rachel Wagoner told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Much remains to be done – and California is already lagging behind. The state has already missed a 2020 target set in SB 1383 to reduce compost in landfills to half of what it was in 2014. ” of 75% waste reduction by 2025. “We are actually about a million tons above our baseline in 2014.”

As cities get their act together, there’s still a question of how to tell people about the lifestyle change, something Martinez sees as one of the biggest hurdles. Composting may be easier than the Byzantine recycling systems most municipalities have. For example, Los Angeles has said that: all food scraps, including meat and bones, will be compostable. That will lower the barrier to entry as the city’s program rolls out.

But Martinez said ordinary people still need to be educated on “what can” [and] cannot go to the bin by jurisdiction and region,” and that cities “should be transparent to consumers about when to expect a bin.” The law requires that cities should provide translations of educational materials in areas where “a significant number of residents” speak a language other than English.

Even with all the hurdles, there’s still a lot to get excited about if the most populous state in the US can figure out how to compost on a large scale. “This new law is ultimately a step in the right direction and with all the new stuff it will take time and patience to figure it out,” Martinez said.

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