California programs brace as organic mandate takes hold

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Beginning in 2022, California law will require every municipality in the state to provide an organics collection service, among other mandates. | Thomas Holt / Shutterstock

In January, California municipalities must start meeting requirements for what some stakeholders are calling the most important waste reduction legislation in decades.

Senate Bill 1383, approved by lawmakers and signed by the state governor in 2016, contains a number of provisions designed to increase the diversion of organics in the state. The objective of the legislation is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the burial of organic materials.

Regulators at the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) have been working for several years to define how the law will be implemented. Beginning in January 2022, the law will require every municipality in the state to provide an organics collection service, procure fixed amounts of collected organic waste, and ensure that certain catering companies donate qualifying food to organizations. recovery of food.

Even in a state with some of the most extensive materials recovery laws in the country, the Organic Products Act stands out for its scope.

“I think SB 1383 is the biggest waste reduction piece of legislation we’ve had in decades here in California,” said Jeff Becerra, communications manager for StopWaste, a public agency that represents municipalities across the country. Alameda County in the San Francisco Bay Area. . “Its very important.”

This is a sentiment shared by the boss of CalRecycle, who recently told The Associated Press the law will make the most significant change to California’s waste stream since the 1980s.

Different challenges depending on the geography

In Alameda County, where the organics collection infrastructure is already strong, stakeholders predict that the biggest hurdle will be responding to collected organics waste procurement mandates.

Starting in January, SB 1383 will require municipalities to procure 0.08 tonnes of compost, or 160 pounds, per person in a given jurisdiction. These goals can be achieved by government agencies that purchase compost, mulch, biofuel and electricity from recovered organic material.

CalRecycle released the target amounts for 2022 for each county and city last month. For Oakland, the largest city in Alameda County with nearly 436,000 residents, the goal is nearly 35,000 tonnes for the year.

In total, cities and unincorporated communities in Alameda County will aim to purchase 132,528 tonnes of collected organic waste in 2022.

Becerra of StopWaste said these goals are particularly difficult as there will be increased market demand for the same pool of compost and mulch. The goals as written are somewhat unrealistic, Becerra said.

“Even though we’ve done a lot of work over the years, it will still be quite difficult to meet the sourcing requirements,” he said.

In a more rural county, the challenge is reversed. The Humboldt Waste Management Authority (HWMA), which works on behalf of the Humboldt County jurisdictions, predicts that increasing access to collection will be difficult on the food waste side.

Eric Keller, director of operations for HWMA, said Humboldt County has decent garden debris collection and handling services, but food scraps are a different story, with much less established infrastructure.

Humboldt County jurisdictions have hired a consulting firm to help them plan for compliance. Some municipalities in the county will likely be granted derogations, which CalRecycle allows in certain areas with low population or low waste generation, among other criteria.

“Obviously, just like many other rural counties, in the future we will have to take some pretty drastic measures to expand all kinds of organics processing and collection,” Keller said.

Unlike the largely urban Alameda County, however, Humboldt may be better suited to meet supply goals. Data from CalRecycle shows the county has a total supply target of 10,468 tonnes for 2022.

Keller said jurisdictions across the county have already purchased a lot of compost material from a local green waste processor.

“We’ve got a pretty decent take on that, and I think it’s superficial for some of the other challenges,” he said.

Businesses also need to make changes

One of the items posted in January is the requirement that certain businesses donate edible food to food recovery organizations. These businesses, classified as “food donors,” include grocery stores and supermarkets, food distributors, wholesalers, and food service providers.

These companies “typically have more produce, fresh groceries and shelf-stable foods to donate,” according to CalRecycle.

A second tier of businesses – including restaurants, hotels, large venues and event centers, and more – will need to donate edible foods from 2024.

Some local jurisdictions contribute to awareness raising and assistance.

“One of the things we support our cities with is connecting with food recovery organizations,” said Alma Freeman, program manager at StopWaste in Alameda County.

In some cases, grant agreements between food producers and food recovery organizations were put in place prior to the mandate. This could be a nonprofit food donation group accepting edible food from a grocery store, for example.

Keller noted that in Humboldt County there are a number of food banks that have been “really on the cutting edge” when it comes to storing and donating edible foods.

“Our county, as a whole, we are doing quite well,” he said.

With SB 1383 will come the inspections and the application of these requirements.

Lawyers ask for financial help

Organic mandates present significant financial charges for certain local authorities.

“At this point it’s basically 25% of our budget,” said Becerra of StopWaste, noting that most of that time is spent on staff time. He said the agency has an annual budget of $ 11 million.

Financial considerations are even more pronounced in rural counties. Keller, in Humboldt County, said some of the requirements associated with the collection warrant would be onerous to meet. He gave the example of the uniformity of collection bags.

“It’s a huge amount of money for jurisdictions other than LA, San Diego,” he said.

The League of California Cities, Californians Against Waste and others wrote to state lawmakers earlier this year, asking for $ 225 million in local aid for cities tasked with implementing the organic mandate. The letter noted that the $ 225 million alone would be insufficient for the state to meet organic targets.

“The first compliance obligations for local governments begin in early 2022 and local governments are working to develop a comprehensive suite of local collection, enforcement and funding programs,” the signatories wrote in a joint letter. “These activities include hiring new staff and consultants, adopting ordinances, setting up appropriate collection services, establishing inspection and enforcement programs, purchasing organic waste.” salvage, education and awareness, development of edible food salvage programs and reporting to CalRecycle.

The League called on the legislature to make minimum payments of $ 200,000 to every county and $ 125,000 to every city in the state. Additional funding has been requested for cities and counties on a per capita basis.

A similar budget request was signed by many jurisdictions, advocacy groups and businesses, including Waste Management and Republic Services.

An impact study commissioned by the State for organic mandates valued implementation costs would total $ 20.9 billion between 2019 and 2030.

A budget summary indicates that the 2021-22 budget ultimately allocated $ 60 million for local jurisdiction implementation grants SB 1383, $ 90 million for biological infrastructure grants, and smaller grant funds to strengthen co-operation efforts. digestion, composting and recovery of edible foods.

The pandemic is piling up on

During the final round of regulatory development comments, received from April 2020 to May 2020, many cities raised concerns about the spending of resources for the diversion of organics when they were strained by the pandemic.

“Like the state of California, local jurisdictions are experiencing significant budget deficits due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote Wendy Sommer, then executive director of StopWaste. “Layoffs are expected, and many cities still have not recovered from the previous recession and were already understaffed, wondering how they would find the resources to implement SB 1383.”

CalRecycle responded to numerous comments, noting that the agency does not have the discretion to delay many regulations because SB 1383 has established in law a mandate to divert 75% of organics that the state must reach. by 2025.

This rate “will not be achieved if the implementation of regulatory requirements designed to achieve this goal is significantly delayed,” the agency wrote.

However, CalRecycle told jurisdictions it recognizes the hardships the pandemic has caused for local governments and that the agency will focus on providing technical assistance in response to those hurdles.

The agency said it would work on “compliance assistance first and reserve enforcement discretion for flagrant violators.”

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