You compost 3,000 tons, what do you get? Less trash — and a coming crackdown on green-waste scofflaws

A green organic waste bin will be joining the black trash and blue recycling bins at Rancho Bernardo homes in early August.
(City of San Diego)

With the rollout of the city’s new program nearly complete, more than 200,000 green bins have been delivered, and organics recycling has more than doubled year over year


San Diegans are recycling more than twice as much organic waste under a comprehensive new city program that has delivered more than 200,000 green waste containers and compost kitchen pails to city residents.

The increase in organic waste recycling is the goal of the state-mandated program, which aims to reduce the presence in landfills of yard clippings, decaying food and other materials that emit the harmful greenhouse gas methane.

While city officials remain focused on outreach efforts and hopeful that residents will voluntarily comply, they are also finalizing an enforcement plan that’s likely to include fines for repeat offenders.

Every city neighborhood except Mission Beach received green bins and compost pails between Jan. 11 and Aug. 7. And dozens of new city recycling trucks and drivers began weekly pickups of green waste as the new cans were rolled out.

Initial statistics comparing July 2022 to July 2023, the first month where nearly the whole city had green bins, show the amount of green recycling collected by the city increased from 3,100 tons to 6,900 tons.

The statistics also show a corresponding drop in the amount of waste collected in black containers, which are used for trash that can’t be recycled. From July 2022 to July 2023, waste in black cans fell from 26,300 tons to 23,100 tons.

Green recycling was being collected by the city before the rollout of the new program, but those collections were less frequent, only took place in certain neighborhoods and used cans owned by individual customers.

The statistics only cover homes served by the city, which handles trash collection primarily at single-family homes. The figures don’t include trash customers served by private haulers, which serve businesses and most apartment and condominium complexes.

The seven-month rollout ran into a few problems, such as maps that didn’t reflect recent housing developments and difficulties getting the delivery trucks doling out the green cans down tight alleys.

City officials cite ‘inspiring’ progress and minor hurdles — including maps that don’t reflect recent housing developments and getting residents to embrace composting their food scraps in kitchen pails.

May 18, 2023

Such problems are one reason why the city will wait to deliver green cans and compost pails to Mission Beach until after tourist season ends in late September.

“The area contains more tourists and people in the summertime, and these green delivery trailers need some space to maneuver,” said Matthew Cleary, assistant director of the city’s Environmental Services Department. “We wanted to make sure we could do this efficiently and safely.”

But Cleary said city officials feel the rollout, which has already delivered 210,336 green cans in total, has been a strong success overall.

“Aside from a few little hiccups, it went extraordinarily well,” he said. “We always knew there were going to be some folks who didn’t want to participate, and we certainly heard from them during the rollout. But I would say nine out of 10 residents that we talked to were excited and ready to use these green cans.”

City also faces millions in ongoing costs because of ordinance requiring free trash pick-up at single-family homes

June 22, 2021

Another benefit was that people already enthusiastic about organics recycling have been encouraging their neighbors in person and helping confused people on social media sites like NextDoor.

“We have a lot of folks who are passionate about organic waste recycling or have been home composting for a number of years,” Cleary said. “They typically provide the correct information because they have experience, and they are educating folks who are not quite sure what to do.”

A green bin and kitchen pail that had just been delivered in La Jolla Shores.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Cleary said city officials want to remain positive in their approach as long as possible, but they must submit an enforcement plan to the state by Jan. 1.

“We’re currently putting the finishing touches on that enforcement plan, and it is ripe with education and outreach first and foremost,” he said. “On whether there will be fines, I think the answer is yes for egregious cases — but that’s not the approach we want to take.”

Another local challenge is how organics recycling is being rolled out by the private trash haulers. Some customers of private haulers have complained that they haven’t gotten compost kitchen pails, while others say their complex or strip mall hasn’t gotten enough green cans for all the organic waste produced.

Cleary said new contracts signed by all the haulers give them some discretion about how to handle organics recycling. He said people who aren’t delivered kitchen pails can use 1-gallon ice cream containers or order a kitchen pail online for roughly $10.

Private haulers are expected to pass the cost of the new green recycling service on to their customers in the form of higher monthly fees.

City residents in single-family homes currently get trash and recycling services for free, but that is expected to change in either 2025 or 2026 thanks to a successful November 2022 ballot measure that allows the city to begin charging.

Prompted by a successful ballot measure, the $1.1 million analysis will also explore subsidies for low-income residents and a ‘pay-as-you-throw’ incentive program.

May 7, 2023

During this year’s rollout of the green cans, the city launched a paid advertising campaign that Cleary said got 66 million impressions. It included billboards, radio spots, TV ads, email blasts, social media and ads on grocery carts and transit stops.

For details on the city organic recycling program, visit