During February’s Happy Hour we unpacked the state’s new composting law (SB1383) with the help of three local experts in the field: Joe La Mariana, Executive Director of Rethink Waste, Monica Devincenzi from Republic Services and Gordon Tong, representing San Mateo County’s Office of Sustainability.

Monica started off the evening by sharing some historical context on waste management. She explained that each county is supposed to have at least one active landfill within its borders with a minimum of 15 years of waste capacity. San Mateo County has one active landfill site, Ox Mountain in Half Moon Bay, which is owned and operated by Republic Services. At current usage levels, Ox Mountain’s lifespan is estimated to extend until 2038-2040. It typically takes decades to get approval for a new landfill. Consequently, even without SB1383, it’s imperative for San Mateo County residents and businesses to prevent unnecessary waste (compost and recyclables) from entering the landfill to help prolong the landfill’s lifespan. Once it has maxed out, the county will likely have to truck waste out of the county, costing residents more money and generating more greenhouse gases in the process.

Organic waste (yard waste, food scraps, and food soiled paper products) is the largest waste stream in the state. In 2017, California disposed of nearly 27 million tons of organic waste in landfills. SB1383 aims to reduce the production of methane gas (a harmful greenhouse gas, more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere) that is emitted when organic waste breaks down in a landfill setting.

Gordon said SB 1383 takes a multi-pronged approach in addressing the climate impact of food waste. Two major components of the law include redirecting organic waste away from landfills and increasing food recovery efforts.

While SB1383 takes effect this year, it will be another two years before jurisdictions have the authority to enforce the regulations. In the meantime, the county, cities and waste haulers are embarking on an education campaign to get the public to voluntarily participate. The law set the following benchmarks:

  • By 2020, a 50 percent reduction in landfilled organic waste with a cap of 11.5 million tons
  • By 2022, the regulation takes effect
  • By 2025, a 75 percent reduction in landfilled organic waste with a cap of 5.7 million tons and a 20 percent recovery rate for currently disposed foods fit for human consumption.

Additionally, SB1383 has many stipulations for organic waste collection and hauling, including waste container colors and signage, contamination, reporting, and food recovery.

The Edible Food Recovery Program is a major component of the law, requiring the development of a local plan for recovering food, the identification of larger food generators (food wholesalers, grocery stores, larger restaurants, hotels, etc.), and the increased capacity of organizations (such as food banks) to obtain and use the recovered food. To meet this requirement, San Mateo County’s Office of Sustainability has taken the lead in putting together a countywide program connecting food generators with food recovery organizations.

Another piece of the law covers paper and compost procurement requirements for cities and counties with the aim of creating a market for the additional compost being generated because of the law.

All three speakers concurred that SB1383 is a very dense piece of legislation which is going to require a learning process for all parties involved. As Joe explained, the governmental agencies are responsible for meeting the requirements set forth in the law and enforcing them when the time comes, and they are working in partnership with the haulers, and in turn the public, to help reach the desired outcomes.

For more information on the specific regulations in SB 1383 visit: www.calrecycle.ca.gov/organics/slcp.

By Susie Hodges

Preview of Happy Hour Presentation

See the presentation in PDF format (695 KB)

See questions and answers from the February Happy Hour (51 KB)