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Eye on the Environment: New rules on food waste

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By David Goldstein, 
Special to the Ojai Valley News

Over the past couple weeks, I have received several inquiries about California's new food-waste recycling law that took effect Jan. 1. The law requires residents and businesses to recycle their food waste and other organics.

Here are my answers to some of the most common questions: 

Why did this new program start?

To combat climate change and conserve resources, the state Legislature in 2014 passed Senate Bill 1383, setting deadlines for cities and counties to implement, monitor and enforce programs to reduce landfilling of organics.

Organics are anything derived from living matter, including food and yard clippings. In landfills, organics decompose without oxygen, emitting a powerful climate-changing gas called methane. Aerated composting emits far less methane.

Is curbside food waste recycling available in my area?

If you're unsure, call the phone number on your refuse bill. Call center staff will ask for your address and give you information specific to your area.

Should I bag my food scraps?

In cities served by Harrison Industries' trash collection — Ojai, Ventura, Camarillo and Fillmore — residents should keep food scraps in a bag and put it in their yard waste cart, now called an “organics” cart. The bagging allows trash haulers to keep food waste separate from yard clippings and other organic waste taken to local composting facilities, which are not yet permitted to accept food.

Oxnard residents are also asked to bag their kitchen waste.

Residents in cities served by Athens Services or Waste Management — Thousand Oaks, Santa Paula, Moorpark and Simi Valley — should put the scraps directly into the organics cart — no bags.

A truck unloads organic waste to be used for composting at the Anaerobic Composter Facility in Woodland on Nov. 30. A state law that took effect this month requires residents to recycle food waste so it can be turned into compost or energy. The goal is to reduce climate-warming emissions from landfills.

What happens to the food scraps?

Because composting facilities in Ventura County do not yet have permits to process food waste, scraps collected here are hauled to businesses outside in the county, most commonly in Kern County. The compost and other soil products are sold to farmers, landscapers and gardeners.

Agromin expects to open an organics processing facility in Oxnard later this year. Residential and commercial food waste will be mashed and sold as animal feed or sent to other facilities to make compost or biofuels. 

Agromin also expects to have a permit to accept food waste at its Limoneira composting facility, though upgrading the operation to required standards could over a year.

How much is this going to cost me?

Some cities, including Thousand Oaks and Santa Paula, have newly negotiated contracts with a refuse hauling company that already include organics recycling in rates.

Other cities have so far managed to add the service without rate increases, but this added recycling is expensive and likely to affect rates in the future. 

If bagging food scraps proves successful, it could hold down the recycling cost in areas using that program. With bagging, food can be pulled out of the mix at sorting centers, so only a small portion of the waste in organics carts needs to be hauled to distant operations that have a full solid waste facility permit. This enables companies to recycle yard clippings and lumber locally.

When Agromin’s Limoneira facility begins accepting yard waste with food waste, costs may decline, as all material will be locally recycled.

Who is going to buy all this compost?

Farmers balance the cost of buying and spreading compost against the agronomic benefit, which doesn't always pencil out. Farms are not expected to buy enough, so the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) has required cities and counties to increase their purchase of compost, mulch or bioenergy in the coming years.

Residents can keep public costs lower and benefit from organics recycling programs by buying locally produced mulch and compost.

 

— David Goldstein, an environmental resource analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at 805-658-4312 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

 

 
 

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