Eco-tip: 2020 puts focus on a new frontier of recycling
David Goldstein, Special to Ventura County Star
Published 3:14 p.m. PT Jan. 4, 2020
Wednesday was not only New Year’s Day; it was also the dawn of what might signal a new era in California recycling.
Until now, recycling has focused mostly on items like cans, bottles, paper, cardboard, and plastic. A Jan. 1, 2020, target set by California Senate Bill 1383, passed in 2016, directs California to recycle half of all organic waste. It also set a much more ambitious mandate for California to boost organic waste recycling to 75% by 2025.
In the recycling business, “organic” means something different than it does in farming.
In farming, an “organic” product is one grown without “chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides,” according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.
“Organic waste” and “organics,” on the other hand, are terms used to describe waste originating from living organisms and capable of being turned into compost, mulch or biofuel.
Examples of organics in this context include yard waste such as grass clippings and tree prunings, as well as food scraps, discarded lumber, manure, sewage sludge and some types of paper. These items make up about two-thirds of the material disposed by Ventura County residents and businesses, if results from a sort at Oxnard’s Del Norte Regional Recycling and Transfer Station and other locations statewide can be generalized to the entire county.
Targeting organics for recycling has some of the same benefits of previous recycling. Resources will be conserved rather than being buried in landfills; jobs will be created, funded at least partly through the recovered value of products produced from recycled material; and landfill space will be saved. However, focusing on organics recycling is now a priority for two different reasons.
The first reason is methane emission reduction. According to the website of the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), “methane emissions resulting from the decomposition of organic waste in landfills are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global climate change.”
CalRecycle Information Officer Lance Klug added, “Methane is more than 70 times more potent than carbon dioxide, over a 20-year horizon.” Klug said methane and other pollutants also contribute to respiratory problems, heart disease and other public health issues.
Secondly, not only is SB 1383 part of California’s strategy to combat climate change, but responsibly managing organic waste will also redirect edible food waste from landfills to Californians in need. CalRecycle’s website notes that about 17% of statewide landfill disposal is food, and much of it would be edible if it could be safely rescued and redirected to those with food insecurity.
In Ventura County, 16.6% of the population is food-insecure, according to the website of our local food bank, Food Share. In fact, the problem is so severe that 69% of those identified as food-insecure had to choose between paying for food or utilities in the previous six months, according to a Food Share surveys of clients. SB 1383 set an additional goal of recovering 20% of currently disposed edible food for human consumption by 2025.
The SB 1383 mandates have a 2014 baseline and follow 2014 legislation, Assembly Bill 1826, which requires businesses to recycle organic materials if they generate at least 4 cubic yards of waste per week.
Ventura County jurisdictions all have separate curbside collection of yard clippings, and local edible food recovery programs are growing, so local cities and the county have helped the state toward its Jan. 1 target.
WasteFree VC, a local group led by the Ventura County Public Health Department, has been key to the growth of food rescue and recovery programs, using a CalRecycle $500,000 grant to launch several initiatives.
SB 1383 calls for enforcement of mandates to begin in 2022, and you can help your community comply by using your yard waste cart or hauling your yard clippings, tree trimmings and lumber to compost and mulch facilities.
Some businesses also have enough landscape waste to order a separate bin for yard waste, and a few have food waste composting programs.
You can also divert food waste through home composting or a worm box.
Food waste prevention can be accomplished through methods detailed at sites such as savethefood.com. Donating to local food rescue organizations like Food Share or Food Forward are also important for helping Ventura County meet the state’s mandates.
Some previous types of recycling depended on overseas companies to manufacture discards into products. Organics recycling will depend on local composting, mulching, food waste reduction, and food recovery.
Eco-Tip is written by David Goldstein, an environmental resource analyst for the Ventura County Public Works Agency. He can be reached at 658-4312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.