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January 09, 2024

Environmental, Natural Resources, & Energy Law Blog

California SB 1383: The Ineffective Organic Waste Reduction Policy Application in San Diego: Without outreach, education and enforcement, residents choose to skip the stink - Sarah Caggiano

 

California SB 1383: The Ineffective Organic Waste Reduction Policy Application in San Diego: Without outreach, education and enforcement, residents choose to skip the stink.

Sarah Caggiano Fall 2023

 

INTRODUCTION

Methane, a natural greenhouse gas, is a super pollutant 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.[1] Methane is a major contributor to atmospheric warming and the overall climate change impacting California today. Over 20% of the state’s total methane emissions are generated from organic waste materials, such as food scraps and lawn clippings, as they are broken down in landfills.[2]

California’s legislators recently passed legislation pointed at reducing these methane emissions in a desperate attempt to save the state from the rapid and devastating effects of climate change in the region, such as drought, wildfires, rising sea levels and hazardous temperatures.[3] CA Senate Bill 1383 (SB 1383) focuses on short lived pollutants and aims to increase the state’s organic waste disposal to 75% to specified composting and anaerobic digestion facilities by 2025.[4] In diverting the organic waste produced by residents and businesses to composting facilities, the amount of methane produced by the decomposition of waste in landfills would decrease and the amount of climate warming pollutants in the atmosphere would decrease. [5] Although SB 1383 is state legislation, individual jurisdictions (counties, cities or special districts that provide waste collection) are responsible for implementing SB 1383 regulations in their communities, and residents are required to subscribe to and participate in their jurisdiction’s organic curbside collection service.[6]

In 2022, the City of San Diego introduced the Organic Waste Recycling Program and provided private residents with green waste bins and kitchen pails for organic waste disposal as part of a multifaceted approach to meet the compliance standards set by the state.[7] Supplying the resources to support organic waste disposal is a great start, but there are several other barriers to creating a successful new disposal system in San Diego. Although the City of San Diego’s Organic Waste Recycling Program has the ability to limit the production of methane in local landfills and thereby reduce the local contribution to atmospheric warming, without more aggressive and effective outreach, education, and enforcement of the regulation, the city will be unsuccessful in reaching the ambitious goal of 75% organic waste disposal set by the state in the next two years. This blog recommends that the City of San Diego undertake a better outreach, education and enforcement program that includes a a media campaign, educational presentations at schools and businesses, as well as immediate fiscal penalties for individual noncompliance.

SAN DIEGO’S ORGANIC WASTE RECYCLING PROGRAM

In 2022, the city of San Diego began the extensive process of updating municipal code and procedures involving waste collection and disposal in response to SB 1383. The city updated collection operations, amended its agreement with franchise haulers, and began to provide outreach and education to residents and businesses. From 2022-2023, kitchen pails and green bins were delivered to all city-serviced residences and pickup of organic waste bins was implemented on a weekly basis alongside the traditional garbage and recycling pickup schedule. The collected organic waste is taken to composting facilities and anaerobic digestion facilities.[8]

The implementation of the program since the passage of SB1383 has been rapid. Every citizen now has a green bin and the ability to make a difference for the environment by collecting their organic waste, discarding the waste into the green bin, rather than their usual black bin, and setting the green bin outside for collection on their usual garbage day. Easy enough! However, a quick drive through any given neighborhood in San Diego on trash collection day, a brief conversation with local residents, or a simple visit to an office break room kitchen would reveal the massive lack of participation by the community. Why is this the case? In looking at regular recycling, a well-known and practiced form of waste diversion for environmental protection, the rate of recycling in California was 40% in 2021 according to Cal Recycle Reports (down from 42% in 2020).[9] After decades of outreach, education, infrastructure implementation and practice on recycling, residents of the golden state are only choosing to recycle their recyclable goods less than half the time. It is not surprising then that the residents of San Diego are not adopting the Organic Waste Recycling Program wholeheartedly within the first two years of implementation based on the recycling metrics.

There are a few key reasons why simply providing the tools to dispose of green waste properly is not enough to encourage adoption of the practice. Green waste is stinky, composting is foreign, and new routines are hard to implement. One of the frequently asked questions on the program website regards the odor of the bin and how to prevent it.[10] While the city provides some tips for reduction of odor on the site, most residents are intimidated and turned off by the idea of something stinky, and potentially insect attracting, being housed in bins on their kitchen counter and next to their home. Residents also frequently asked questions about the composting process.[11] The recycling industry has historically generated mistrust in the public due to the lack of transparency regarding the volume of recycled goods being recycled into new materials, the volume disposed of in regular landfills, and the volume sent to foreign nations.[12] The public is showing similar mistrust regarding composting.[13] Composting facilities are relatively new, and municipalities are not providing good information regarding the process our organic waste undergoes after it is collected from our homes. Without a clear explanation and thorough understanding of what happens to the waste we collect, residents of San Diego will not comprehend the importance of organic waste recycling for the environment and the future of California. Individuals may not trust that the added inconvenience of trash sorting, including the smell, would lead to any tangible environmental changes. And, without pressure or encouragement to participate in the program from the City of San Diego and the shared community, citizens will continue to elect non-compliance.

WAYS TO INCREASE COMPOSTING SUCCESS IN THE FUTURE

1 – Improve and increase education and outreach.

Improving and increasing outreach and education are two significant steps that could resolve some of the concerns listed. The San Diego program consists of three main portions: distribution of disposal materials, outreach and education, and practice and enforcement. [14] The city is currently in the outreach and education phase; however, aside from a single presentation hosted in a community library, there are no outreach events in the upcoming months advertised on the program site. [15] While there are plenty of useful educational materials available on the program site, an individual would need to seek out the site on their own to obtain these resources. The city is not affirmatively distributing educational material in any meaningful way.

The city needs to undertake a more aggressive campaign of outreach to overcome the barriers citizens face when beginning their organic waste disposal journey. Outreach could involve a media campaign on the news, on social media sites, and at large events such as sports games and concerts in the city. Volunteers and city employees should be doing more educational presentations, demonstrations at schools and businesses, and pop-up outreach booths at local events. Informational materials, preferably compostable, should be distributed regularly through the mail reminding residents of the importance of the program, educating individuals about the organic waste disposal process, and indicating the key dates of the program, including when fines will begin for non-compliance. Some examples of educational material that should be provided via mail are flyers that outline what to compost; listing types of waste items that can be composted and items that cannot. If citizens are taught how to easily identify compostable items, and learn what makes a material compostable, then there are less barriers to entry and they will be more empowered to participate in the program. Additionally, informational materials and presentations provided by the city should outline the process organic waste undergoes when composted versus disposed of in a land fill, and how those processes impact climate warming through methane emissions. The city must also emphasize the importance of climate change resolution for San Diego residents as a result of the program. Minimizing the impacts of climate change will benefit the health and safety of residents by providing respiratory relief from particulate matter. [16] By reducing methane gases causing warming, composting will help stabilize rising temperatures that are exasperating the rate and intensity of natural disasters causing loss of life and property. [17] The city can use the media to explain why composting, though potentially inconvenient in the short term, would benefit residents personally and financially long term by keeping California safe from climate change outcomes. By advancing and expanding the outreach and education campaign, the city would evoke more participation in the program and bring the city closer to meeting the state compliance objectives.

2 – Set a timeframe for enforcement, including penalties for non-compliance

As 2023 comes to a close, the city remains in the outreach phase of program implementation. The state mandate that includes financial penalties for non-compliance will not be put into effect prior to the completion of the outreach and education phase. [18] So, there is currently no enforcement of organic waste disposal and no public plan for enforcement in the near future. The goal set by SB 1383 is 75% organic waste diversion by 2025. Considering the program participation by the City of San Diego residents is low in 2023, the city must set a stringent timeframe to expedite the outreach and education phase then move on to the enforcement phase. Unless the residents of San Diego are pressured to participate in organic waste disposal by enforcement measures, the goal of 75% diversion will remain out of reach due to lack of participation.

According to SB1383, jurisdictions are required to implement an inspection and enforcement program to ensure organic waste generators comply with all the requirements set by the bill. [19] Under the enforcement section of the state bill informational site on Cal Recycle, there is a large, red “Coming Soon” sign, instead of any tangible enforcement regulations for jurisdictions to follow. [20] There is no indication by the City of San Diego when it intends to begin enforcement of penalties for non-compliance and how. While it is fair for the city to refrain from penalization prior to proper outreach and education about the program, the outreach and education campaign is practically nonexistent, and there are only two years left to meet the compliance goal. Some incentives for residents to participate in organic waste disposal would be very beneficial. In addition, there has never been a financial penalty for non-compliance with recycling standards, (this would be the first plan of its kind), making education all the more important.

The US Department of Justice outlines four main strategies that government can use to influence behavior: information, facilitation, regulation and incentives.[21] Sanctions are most often utilized when the goal or policy being implemented is of significant importance to society. In the case of SB 1383, the climate crisis requires immediate and dramatic action with utmost importance to society. Anything that can help resolve climate change, such as the methane reduction associated with SB 1383, should be implemented to the fullest extent possible, including sanctions for non-compliance. The financial penalties for non-compliance in the program set by the City of San Diego must be large, clearly communicated and enforced by the end of 2024 in order for the bill to be effective within the proposed timeframe.

CONCLUSION

The City of San Diego’s execution of the State Bill 1383 to reduce methane emissions by increasing organic waste disposal is lacking in two major areas that will prevent the successful compliance of the city with the state’s goals. Firstly, the outreach and education campaign has been limited, and a more aggressive and complete campaign involving increased advertisement, presentations, and distribution of materials is necessary to increase residential understanding and participation. Secondly, the plan for enacting financial penalties on residents for non-compliance must be completely developed and applied as soon as possible to encourage the maximum level of residential participation. Without increased outreach and education, and without financial penalties, residents will choose to forgo organic waste disposal due to lack of convenience, fear of odor, and misunderstanding of the program objective and processes.

The goals for the reduction of methane emissions set by SB1383 are critically important to combat the impending effects of climate change in California. Therefore, the actions taken by the state and its individual jurisdictions to implement these goals requires an equal level of intensity. The current Organic Waste Disposal Program in San Diego has the potential to greatly contribute to the prevention of global warming, and with an increase in outreach and education, and the enforcement of penalties, the city would be one step closer to breaking the stink-ma around organic waste disposal.

 

[1] California Air Resources Board, Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, (2023) https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/our-work/programs/slcp

[2] Cal Recycle, California’s Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction Strategy, (2023) https://calrecycle.ca.gov/organics/slcp/

[3] Cal Recycle, Food and yard waste recycling is the fastest way to fight climate change in California right now, (2023) https://m.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=7&v=7ZoiQVyIW3M&embeds_referring_euri=https%3A%2F%2Fcalrecycle.ca.gov%2F&source_ve_path=MTY0OTksMTY0OTksMTM5MTE3LDI4NjY2&feature=emb_logo

[4] S.B. 1383, Chapter 395, Sec. 3(2), (2016) https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160SB1383

[5] Cal Recycle, California’s Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction Strategy, (2023) https://calrecycle.ca.gov/organics/slcp/

[6] Cal Recycle, Enforcement of Organics Waste Collection, Processing and Diversion from Landfills, (2023) https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160SB1383

[7] City of San Diego, New Organic Waste Recycling Program, https://www.sandiego.gov/environmental-services/recycling/sb1383

[8] City of San Diego, New Organic Waste Recycling Program, https://www.sandiego.gov/environmental-services/recycling/sb1383

[9] Cal Recycle, State of Recycling and Disposal in California, (2023) https://calrecycle.ca.gov/reports/stateof/

[10] City of San Diego, Organic Waste Recycling Frequently Asked Questions, https://www.sandiego.gov/environmental-services/recycling/sb1383/organic-waste-recycling-faqs

[11] City of San Diego, Organic Waste Recycling Frequently Asked Questions, https://www.sandiego.gov/environmental-services/recycling/sb1383/organic-waste-recycling-faqs

[12] Erin McCOrmick et al., The Guardian, Where does your plastic go? Global investigation reveals America’s dirty secret, (2019) https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jun/17/recycled-plastic-america-global-crisis

[13] Marc Sternfield, Fox 5 News San Diego, Panel says California should pause organic waste recycling mandate, (2023) https://fox5sandiego.com/sustainable-san-diego/panel-says-california-should-pause-organic-waste-recycling-mandate/

[14] City of San Diego, New Organic Waste Recycling Program, https://www.sandiego.gov/environmental-services/recycling/sb1383

[15] City of San Diego, New Organic Waste Recycling Program, https://www.sandiego.gov/environmental-services/recycling/sb1383

[16] Cal Recycle, Food and yard waste recycling is the fastest way to fight climate change in California right now, (2021) https://m.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=7&v=7ZoiQVyIW3M&embeds_referring_euri=https%3A%2F%2Fcalrecycle.ca.gov%2F&source_ve_path=MTY0OTksMTY0OTksMTM5MTE3LDI4NjY2&feature=emb_logo

[17] Cal Recycle, Food and yard waste recycling is the fastest way to fight climate change in California right now, (2023) https://m.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=7&v=7ZoiQVyIW3M&embeds_referring_euri=https%3A%2F%2Fcalrecycle.ca.gov%2F&source_ve_path=MTY0OTksMTY0OTksMTM5MTE3LDI4NjY2&feature=emb_logo

[18] City of San Diego, New Organic Waste Recycling Program, https://www.sandiego.gov/environmental-services/recycling/sb1383

[19] Cal Recycle, Enforcement of Organics Waste Collection, Processing and Diversion from Landfills,(2016) https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160SB1383

[20] Cal Recycle, Enforcement of Organics Waste Collection, Processing and Diversion from Landfills, (2016) https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160SB1383

[21] J. Brighman and D.W. Brown, US DOJ Office of Justice Programs, Policy Implementation- Penalties or Incentives? (1980) https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/policy-implementation-penalties-or-incentives