Mandatory organic waste recycling coming to Pacific Beach homes

green recycling bins
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City of San Diego to distribute green bins, organic waste pails


Environmental issues that impact all Pacific Beach residents were the focus of two presentations during the community’s Town Council meeting on Sept. 21.

The City of San Diego is gearing up for the mandatory organic waste recycling program that will impact all trash collection customers.

Per a state mandate, San Diego was to have the program going already, but a lack of equipment and facilities led to it missing the deadline. No official launch date has been set either.

Known as SB 1383, the organics recycling law was enacted in 2016 to reduce greenhouse gas methane emissions from rotting food and other organic material sent to landfills. The waste is to be diverted to facilities that create compost and mulch or natural gas from the trash.

Although many cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, met the state’s Jan. 1, 2022 deadline for separating organic waste during residential and business curbside collection, San Diego is not ready.

Meagan Browning, recycling specialist in the Environmental Services Department, said San Diego is still purchasing new collection trucks and containers, hiring additional staff and amending the municipal code as well as franchise agreements with trash haulers.

“You name it, we’ve been working on it,” Browning said. “The city has been doing quite a lot over the past couple of years. It’s a pretty long implementation plan, but it’s a very large jurisdiction.”

She said methane takes 10 years to decay, but is 84 times more powerful than carbon in trapping heat in the atmosphere. With the law targeting a 75 percent reduction in methane emissions from landfills by 2025, approximately 40 percent of the 900,000 tons of trash sent annually to the Miramar Landfill is organic waste that must be redirected.

“California sees a lot of drastic effects from climate change,” she said. “We see this with ongoing droughts that we face, hotter temperatures and these all contribute to our harsh fire seasons.”

The law is already in effect for large food businesses such as distributors and supermarkets. Aside from separating organic waste, they must donate edible food to organizations such as food banks, to account for a 20 percent reduction.

Private haulers serving multi-family housing (apartments and condos) and small businesses are prepared to divert organic waste, Browning said.

Service for single-family homes has yet to begin. Every home in the city will receive a green trash bin for organic waste, including food scraps, food soiled paper (plates, napkins and bags) and plant trimmings (lawn clippings, leaves, branches and flowers).

Browning said grease, oils, liquids and biodegradable plastics and bags must not be placed in green bins.

Homes with green trash bins will not be given new ones, but will see their organic collection be weekly instead of every two weeks, Browning said.

Homes will also receive plastic pails to place food scraps before being thrown in the bins. Browning suggested the pails be kept in freezers and emptied into bins closer to the collection day to minimize odors, flies and rodents.

“If you get serviced on Tuesday and your cart gets emptied and then you go to throw some food waste in there and it’s 100 degrees, I think we can imagine what’s going to happen there,” she said.

The city will stagger its organic waste collection rollout by neighborhood in order to ease into the new system and make adjustments to unforeseen problems, Browning said.

“It is going to be a learning curve for everyone,” she said, adding, “you are not creating more waste. You are just separating it into another container.”

SB 1383 stipulates warnings and fines for serial offenders. A reporting system is being arranged for the city and haulers to collect and transmit data to the state.

“We’ll get compliance overall of who’s actually participating and who’s not, where we’ll be able to see diversion numbers that way,” Browning said.

Locals will be notified when the program comes to their area with the arrival of the kitchen pail and a flyer in the mail.

“It is a requirement for each generator to have a three-bin system,” she said, adding, “We’ll do the best that we can to make sure you’re aware before the cart is actually delivered to your home. But if you have a private hauler, it’s available to you now.”

In the second presentation, Lydia Greiner, project coordinator at San Diego State University’s Research Foundation Center, talked about her group’s Tobacco Product Waste Reduction Program.

Beginning in July 2021, the project collected, counted, weighed, geocoded and photographed tobacco waste on public walkways in 60 random census blocks — including four in Pacific Beach — among eight cities countywide. The majority were in the City of San Diego.

“We’re working in selected locations throughout San Diego County to systematically collect and measure the tobacco product waste so that we can map its distribution, identify land use and socio-economic characteristics that might influence that distribution, and then turn that information back to the communities for conversations about developing systemic solutions,” Greiner said.

Socio-economic factors were divided into two household income levels. The study also has six land-use categories — single-family homes, multi-unit homes, entertainment areas, parks, mixed use of retail and office space, and parking lots.

“Parking lots are huge issue,” Greiner said. “They’re basically a giant ashtray. It doesn’t matter where they are. Pick a town.”

Although cigarette butts are the primary waste, it also includes the plastic and metal cartridges and the batteries of electronic cigarettes and other tobacco waste.

“I live near PB,” Greiner said. “I can assure you that electronic cigarettes are a huge proportion of the tobacco product waste. Sunday morning walking outside the bars and restaurants, you will see so much e-cigarette waste.”

Greiner said cigarette butts require 10 years to decompose and ultimately wind up in the ocean.

“They break down into micro-plastics, where they remain in our environment and accumulate in marine life and ultimately get into our food chain and in our water,” she said. “Just when you think that wasn’t bad enough, they also leech toxic chemicals into our soil and water: nicotine, arsenic, metals, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, to name a few.”

She said tobacco waste is often reported near schools.

“Anecdotally ... people have offered us that there’s a really big problem around schools,” she said. “Not because of the kids, but because of the parents who are picking up the kids. They park their cars and they eat junk food and they drop their cigarettes outside of their cars.”

Data from waste collected in Pacific Beach should be ready by January. Greiner said she would like to talk with the council in greater detail then.

“We’ll share data with communities and brainstorm solutions,” she said. “I would love to get your reactions to this. I would love to think about how this project might fit with your priorities as a group and ideas for collaboration.”

Council President Marcella Bothwell was on board with the plan.

“We will be very curious to hear results,” Bothwell said.