Merced County Times Newspaper
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State composting bill will soon take effect in county

By MARC MEDEFIND

Special to the Times

A state Senate bill will drastically change how area residents deal with food waste, through composting, rather than just tossing such waste in the garbage.

The bill, SB 1383, was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, Jr. in 2016. Seven years later, it is finally taking effect. This legislation, dubbed the “Climate Pollutant Reduction Law,” establishes methane reduction targets for the state and sets goals for reducing disposal of organic waste in landfills, including edible food.

The bill’s purpose is twofold: it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as methane, and will address food insecurity throughout the state.

An action plan for Merced County and its municipalities was authorized by the Merced County Regional Waste Management Governing Board.

Walnut Creek’s HF&H Consultants were paid $637,895 (or $3,238 per page) to write the 197-page plan which was published in Feb. 2021.

Kyle Loreto, Division Program Manager for Merced County Regional Waste Authority, said the bill’s focus will ensure that food scraps are composted. Loreto has spent the last three years as point person toward putting SB 1383 in working order in Merced County. In addition to composting, Loreto said the county is seeking ways to divert edible foods in a positive way through distribution, or alternatively, as a fuel source.

“SB 1383 is designed to reduce volatile gas and divert organic materials away from landfills. The main goal is to reduce methane,” Loreto said. “The more material we can divert to other uses, the more beneficial it is to the environment. Organics make up more than 50 per cent of what goes into the landfill. This legislation helps provide ways to divert edible foods.”

Composting, industrial use, and animal feed provide positive environmental uses for inedible food or other organic material. Landfilling organic waste produces a significant source of local air pollutants, which can cause respiratory issues and hospitalizations for area residents. Beyond this, climate change in California has meant more severe and lengthy droughts and warmer temperatures that contribute to the increasing number of wildfires. This, in turn, also impacts air quality, plus bigger storms, and coastal erosion due to rising sea levels.

To address both the environmental and health concerns of surplus edible food, SB 1383 requires that by 2025, statewide, 20 per cent of edible food that would otherwise be disposed of in the garbage or compost be recovered for human consumption. This means that surplus edible food will go toward feeding Californians in need instead of decomposing in a landfill while emitting harmful greenhouse gases.

The EPA endorses prevention as the number one strategy for dealing with food waste. The second strategy simply involves feeding people. While billions of meals have gone to waste, millions of Californians haven’t had enough to eat.

The reasoning behind the second strategy is the fact that Californians send 11.2 billion pounds of food to landfills each year, some of which is still fresh enough to feed people in need. Edible food will first go to people. Second, it will be used as animal feed. Loreto said his office is initiating an education and outreach campaign to promote the new program.

“We will start by telling residents to only purchase what they need and to eat what they purchase. By Jan. 1, residents will be required to separate food waste into plastic bags that will be tied up and placed in the county’s green bins,” Loreto said.

Residents in jurisdictions that haven’t had green bins, like the City of Atwater, will soon get them.

To reduce food waste and address food insecurity, surplus food still safe for people to eat will instead go to food banks, soup kitchens, and other food recovery organizations and services to help feed Californians in need. This will save landfill space and will lower methane emissions, considered climate “super pollutants,” that are emitted by organic waste in landfills. Counties and cities will again be responsible for setting up recovery programs.

Beginning this month, Merced County has contracted with Agromin, a cutting-edge ag tech company, to provide composting services that were once the sole responsibility of the county. Agromin has, in turn, partnered locally with Bowles Farms to help facilitate composting efforts.

Though it was legislated to begin in 2022, SB 1383  has been pushed back for some jurisdictions due to COVID. Merced County and incorporated cities in the county were able to sign on to this waiver as legislated in SB 619. When the waiver expires, every city or county jurisdiction will be required to have organic waste collection services in place for all residents and businesses. “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.

Jurisdictions can choose 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.

Local jurisdictions will also provide education for residents and businesses about collection requirements, including what materials can be placed in curbside bins. Education to residents and businesses may vary by jurisdiction and educational content may be provided either electronically, through hard copy materials, or through direct outreach.

“SB 1383 is one of the first regulations that really has teeth in it,” noted Loreto. “It provides jurisdictions with the ability to fine people for non-compliance.”

Such “teeth” will allow jurisdictions to monitor the amount of waste produced by residents as a way to ensure that residents are complying. Non-compliance will lead to fines. The state will also check to make sure jurisdictions are doing their jobs by accounting for routes, notices given and fines listed. Each county jurisdiction will choose its own methodology for handling this. Counties will also be on the hook to pay for SB 1383 since the state included no funding to pay for the bill’s many requirements.

“SB 1383 has put us on a huge learning curve,” said Loreto. “Ultimately, because organics make up more than 50 per cent of what goes into the landfill, this legislation will help provide ways to divert it.”

Residents can learn more about how businesses or organizations can prevent food waste and save money with the FDA’s  “Prevention Tips and Resources.” These resources are designed to help residents understand the food recovery requirements of this new legislation.

 

What you should know about SB 1383

Residential

California Senate Bill 1383 (SB 1383) requires Merced County and all California counties to provide residents with a way to collect their food waste. Residents will be instructed by their waste hauler how collection of these materials will be handled.

Food Waste Separation/Proper Disposal

Rather than throwing food scraps or spoiled food into your trash, you will need to separate this food waste from your trash.  One way you can start to practice keeping food out of the trash is by placing a small pail on our counter top or under your sink in your kitchen to collect daily food waste before disposing of it in the correct collection bin or on your compost pile. Depending on your hauler, you may be able to place fruit and vegetable waste in your green cart already. Yard trimmings mixed with food scraps will absorb liquids and help to minimize odor.

Quick Tips
  • Choose a container that works for you. Use a countertop pail or your own plastic tub. You can also use a decorative pail with a filter and lid.
  • Find a place to store it. You can keep food scraps on the counter, under the sink, next to your trash can or in the fridge.
  • If your green cart gets messy, a quick hose out should do the trick.
  • Use a clear plastic bag to line your pail and prevent leaks but know that these plastic bags are not allowed in your green cart with your food waste.
  • Keep food scraps in the fridge or freezer until collection day. This helps your outdoor cart stay cleaner too.
Composting

Composting is a great alternative use for food waste. This is an activity that the whole family can get participate in and will provide rich nutrients for home gardens. For more information, visit the links below:

Less Food Waste

Less food waste can start with a few things:

  • Meal Planning / Developing a Shopping Guide
  • Knowing how to store food properly in your home (including labeling items in the freezer)
  • Knowing what to create with your leftovers
  • Understanding the dates on food labels
  • Preparing more accurate portions

 

Food Donation

There may be times where you have food that isn’t spoiled yet but you no longer have a need for it. Donating food to local organizations is a great way to prevent food waste from entering the landfill and benefit those in need in your community. Donating food can also be a tax deduction. For more information, contact your tax professional.

 

Specific information regarding Organic Recycling and when/how it will be implemented in your area:

 

SB 1383

For more information about SB 1383, visit: https://calrecycle.ca.gov/organics/slcp/

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