Raw materials are dumped into feedstock compost at Recology Blossom Valley Organics
A tractor-trailer unloads raw materials that will be turned into compost at the Recology Blossom Valley Organics facility in Lamont, Calif.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
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What you need to know about California’s new composting law — a game changer for food waste

Starting Jan. 1, a new law means egg shells, banana peels, leftover pasta and other food scraps can no longer go in with the rest of the trash.

Californians will ring in the new year with the unfurling of a groundbreaking law that will change how they dispose of their organic waste, particularly leftover food and kitchen scraps.

Senate Bill 1383 requires all residents and businesses to separate such “green” waste from other trash, but the program will be rolled out gradually for homes and businesses in the coming months, with the actual startup date varying, depending on the location of your home or business.

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Fines can be levied for failing to separate organic refuse from other trash. But those charges aren’t scheduled to begin until 2024. CalRecycle, the state agency overseeing the change, has lots of information about the new requirements on its website.

Others offering composting solutions include LA Compost — which gives instructions on home composting and also offers community hubs where organic material can be dropped — and CompostableLA, which provides a home pickup service in some neighborhoods, for a fee.

Residents and businesspeople should check with their local governments, and with waste haulers, to find out the specific rules for their communities. Here are some frequently asked questions about the new requirements, with answers from Los Angeles County Public Works and the Los Angeles City Bureau of Sanitation.

Isn’t garbage just garbage? Why are California lawmakers requiring us to separate organic waste from the rest of our trash?

Scientists have found that organic waste dumped into traditional landfills decomposes and creates methane, a super-pollutant with as much as 80 times the Earth-warming potency of carbon dioxide.

To slow the advance of global warming, the state wants to redirect the material to composting centers or anaerobic digestion facilities, where it can help sink carbon back into the Earth or capture natural gas to — for instance — power trash trucks.

When do I need to begin separating my kitchen waste from other trash?

The opening date for organics diversion varies, depending on where you live. San Francisco, Berkeley, Costa Mesa and other communities have been recycling kitchen waste via curbside green bins for years. Those bins also accommodate yard trimmings.

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Can’t climate-warming gases also be curtailed by simply reducing food waste?

Yes. Keith Lilley, deputy director of Los Angeles County Public Works, urges residents and businesses to “shop purposefully, store food mindfully, preserve food and learn how to manage excess food.”

Are there alternatives to having the kitchen and yard waste trucked away?

Yes. Food scraps can be composted at home or taken to friends or family who compost or to a community compost location.

What about food that’s still edible? Where should it go?

SB 1383 proposes increasing by 25% the amount of edible food that supermarkets and other large outlets preserve. (It does not require residents or small businesses to recycle edible food.) The surplus goes to food banks. Businesses can learn more about donations by visiting FoodDropLA.com.

Once my local waste hauler gives the green light, will fruits and vegetables be the only appropriate food waste for the green bin?

No. L.A. County says “all possible parts of food will be acceptable,” including cooked meat, bones, fish, soups and small amounts of grease. Properly licensed anaerobic digesters will be able to break it all down, while also killing pathogens. City sanitation officials agree that — once their curbside pickups begin — all food waste will be acceptable.

Can I be penalized if I dump my waste in the wrong place?

Yes. Beginning in 2024, state law will allow fines for those who contaminate their organic waste. A first offense could cost you $50 to $100, with third and subsequent offenses costing up to $500.

Where will all this extra food waste go?

Most will go to large composting centers or to plants that will convert it into natural gas. Los Angeles County alone has projected that about 1.9 million tons of food waste a year will be diverted. It could take a dozen anaerobic digestion plants to process all of that, at a projected cost of $840 million.

Who’s going to pay for all this?

You are. A survey by the League of California Cities found that most local governments expect refuse collection rates to increase less than 20%, with 1 in 5 cities saying they expect charges to go up more. Costa Mesa, an early adopter of curbside green recycling, estimates that over nine years, monthly rates will have risen a total of $6.10, to $24.10 a month, by 2023-24.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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