California Law Requires Organic Waste Collection to Reduce Climate Change

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH
organic waste

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy name: California State Bill 1383 Short-lived climate pollutants: methane emissions: dairy and livestock: organic waste: landfills

Overview: Starting in 2022, California will require residents and businesses to recycle organic waste, and all jurisdictions must provide organic waste collection services.

Location: California

Population: 39.6 million

Food policy category: Food waste reduction, climate change

Program goals: To reduce greenhouse gas emissions from landfills and climate change. 

How it works: Organic waste includes food scraps, landscaping waste, wood, paper products, manure, and organic textiles.

Jurisdictions – meaning cities, counties, or special districts providing waste collection services –  are responsible for educating residents and businesses about collection requirements and may choose to do so through direct outreach, through hard copy materials, and/or electronically. Each jurisdiction may also choose their own method of collection, as long as they are able to recycle the organic waste into usable products including compost, biofuel, and paper. 

One-, two-, or three-container collection systems may be implemented, with standardized colors of collection containers and proper labeling on new containers. 

  • A one-container collection system allows for all waste – solid waste, organic materials, and recyclable materials – to be combined in one gray bin and sent to a high-diversion organic waste processing facility where the waste is separated.
  • A two-container collection system uses one gray bin along with one blue or green bin. In both systems, the gray containers must be sent to a high-diversion organic waste processing facility.  
    • Gray and Green: Gray bins collect organic and non-organic recyclables and trash while green bins are solely for food and yard waste.
    • Gray and Blue: Gray bins are for food and yard waste and trash, and blue bins collect traditional recyclables including bottles and cans, paper, and cardboard. 
  • In a three-container system, a green container is used for food and yard waste, blue for traditional recyclables, and gray for waste that is not organic or recyclable. 

After all waste has been sorted, the organic waste is sent to a facility and processed into compost or biofuel.  

Residents in single-family homes or complexes with fewer than five units are required to subscribe to their jurisdiction’s curbside collection program and sort organic waste into the appropriate containers. 

Residents of complexes with five or more units are required to either subscribe to their jurisdiction’s curbside collection program or bring their organic waste to a designated composting program or facility. Property owners are responsible for supplying the appropriate collection bins and educating employees and tenants on how to sort their organic waste.

Schools, businesses, and state agencies also have the option of subscribing to a curbside collection program or committing to self-hauling waste to designated facilities. Businesses and property owners must educate employees and customers about proper waste sorting and periodically inspect collection bins for contamination.

Penalties for noncompliance will be determined and enforced by each jurisdiction. 

Goals were set to reduce organic waste by 50 percent from 2014 levels by the end of 2020 and by 75 percent by the end of 2025. 

Progress to date: The policy was introduced in February 2016 and was signed into law in September of the same year. Jurisdictions were given more than five years to prepare for implementation of the regulations and to educate California residents. The policy will go into effect in 2022. 

Why it is important: Climate change has already had a detrimental effect on California. Increased temperatures have reduced water supplies; drier conditions have led to wildfires, poor air quality, and agricultural difficulties; and sea levels are rising, which leads to coastal flooding, and eventually, homes, beaches, and roads will disappear into the water. 

When organic waste breaks down in a landfill, it produces methane. Methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide. It accounts for 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally and is 25 percent more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. 

Recycling organic waste into usable materials such as compost and biofuel will reduce the amount of methane being released into the atmosphere and help to reduce climate change. 

Program/Policy initiated: The policy was passed into law on January 1, 2016, and will go into effect on January 1, 2022. 

Point of contact: N/A

Similar practices: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont also have organic waste laws. 

Evaluation: Evaluation has not yet been conducted because the policy has not yet gone into effect. 

Many cities still lack the funding and permits that are needed to implement the appropriate infrastructure for waste collection and processing, and the waste reduction goal for 2020 was not met. Smaller cities seem to be less prepared for the new regulations because they have not had organics collection systems in place previously, and they have more limited resources. 

Despite these limitations, it appears that Californians support the goals of the law

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