Surprise! Organic Waste Collection is Mandatory in California

Updated: Sep 8

California's SB 1383 Super Pollutant Reduction Strategy, passed in 2016, was designed to mitigate short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP) through two means:


diverting food waste from landfills and rescuing surplus food from businesses to feed people in need. The statute outlined targets to reduce statewide disposal of organic waste by 50% – from 2014 levels – by 2020 and 75% by 2025 to mitigate potent climate-changing emissions.


While CalRecyle's regulations to meet the 2020 and 2025 organic waste reduction targets were not enacted until January 1st, 2022, they adopted regulations in 2019 to allow governed jurisdictions time to develop and implement necessary changes.


For those of you reading this and scratching your heads wondering how you didn't know about this law, don't worry. I was unaware of it until a couple of months after the 2022 mandate went into effect, and I'm a California resident in the sustainability field!


It is important to note that decomposing food waste emits methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide!


Like assuredly is the case for many others, my green waste bin explicitly identified that we were to place only lawn clippings and related plant matter in that bin. No food. I always thought this was such a waste (no pun intended) and missed opportunity to use wasted food as a resource, to create compost, produce biofuels, etc. Come to find, this is precisely what SB 1383 sets forth to do.


It is important to note that decomposing food waste emits methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide! Since landfills are California's third most significant source of methane emissions, it is clear to see the importance of enforcing these regulations.


Since January 1st, 2022, jurisdictions must divert organic waste into emissions-reducing activities to produce high-quality recycled products, such as renewable natural gas, compost, and electricity. I'm sure we can also all appreciate the statute's commitment to recovering at least 20% of surplus edible food for people in need by 2025. Particularly considering that at least one-in-six children, nearly 30% of seniors, and most low-income families right here in Orange County are food-insecure.


The regulations also express that jurisdictions must educate all residents and businesses about the new collection requirements.


But we have a significant problem. The general public has not been educated on these regulations.


How can SB 1383 be effective with a lack of public awareness?

After discovering the new mandate, I discussed it with many Orange County residents over the following months. Not a single person knew about it. Consequently, they admittedly had also not been separating their food waste into the appropriate bin. After my most recent conversations with a few colleagues from different counties – one of whom is relatively savvy in the zero-waste department – I discovered that none of them had heard of the new regulation either. Right then, I was compelled to write about this topic.


If the general public is largely unaware and not participating, does this mean businesses and schools aren't either?


CalRecycle has invested in years of research, workshops, assessments, and preparation. There are implementation tools available, such as training videos and webinars. Yet, somehow, the residents who are producing all of the waste aren't aware of these regulations, nor of the changes they should be making.


Why do we so frequently have gaps between planning and execution?


Ineffective implementation is consistently the primary reason why most sustainability initiatives (and other types of transformation agendas) are unsuccessful. Failure to effectively communicate and execute a plan, no matter how perfectly structured it is on paper, will always be ineffectual. In the best-case scenario, they fall significantly short of expectations.


Let's just say that waste collection facilities will have their work cut out for them for some time, if they have to meet regulatory requirements and residents are tossing organic waste in the trash.


Where do we go from here?

We need to take matters into our own hands and spread the word as best we can.


As soon as I learned about SB 1383, I designated a small container with a well-sealing lid as our counter-top compost bin. We use compostable liners (large lavender-scented doggie doodie bags), tie them up when they're full (usually daily), and stick them in the freezer until collection day. Separating your food waste at home does not take much time or effort (literally, a few extra minutes a week). If I can do it, I promise, you can too.


On a related note, if you run a food-related business, know that the regulations can require local jurisdictions to issue penalties for non-compliance, beginning in 2024. So, the time to start developing and implementing food recovery plans and partnering with your local organizations has already begun.



Final food for thought (pun fully intended)

At this time in human history, it is imperative that we do what we can to make a difference. Climate change isn't in our future; it's affecting every planetary system right now. And thousands of people go hungry every day. Not just in distant places but right here in Orange County. We are fortunate to live in a state that is trying to tackle both of these pervasive issues – and many more – even if its execution isn't perfect.


Now, as compassionate humans, all we have to do is participate a bit and invest in our future by making one simple but meaningful lifestyle change at a time.



 

I am a systems-thinking future-focused strategy & management coach striving to share knowledge on and propose solutions to the risks we face in the present and potential future state of our world. I am passionately driven to work collaboratively with organizations and aid them in developing sustainability mindsets and roadmaps to increase their adaptability, resilience, and long-term sustainability. If your organization has yet to take its first steps toward future-proofing, please don’t hesitate to contact me at me@dcorsetti.com to discuss how we can get you started or schedule a free consultation here.


 

References

State of California. California's Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction Strategy. https://calrecycle.ca.gov/organics/slcp/. Accessed August 20th 2022. Implementation Dates and Thresholds for SB 1383 Implementation. https://calrecycle.ca.gov/climate/slcp/implementationdates/. Accessed August 20th 2022.



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