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Organic waste is processed into mulch at MRWMD’s property in Marina. A new state law means food scraps will also have to be collected, then composted.

The new year will mean broccoli stems, onion skins, tomato tops and moldy bread no longer belong in the garbage. According to a state law six years in the making, essentially all food scraps will have to go into a composting bin, be brought to the curb and hauled away by the local waste haulers to turn into compost.

Combating environmental pollution has always required significant behavior changes; however, this latest effort will require behavior shifts across the board, from waste management authorities, residents, businesses and local governments. SB 1383, signed in 2016, targets the methane emitted during the decomposition of organic food waste in the state’s landfills by diverting it.

Waste management facilities will need to facilitate the waste-into-compost process; residents and business owners will need to start tossing food scraps in a separate bin and local jurisdictions will need to set penalties and commit to buying back, in the form of compost, at least 20 percent of the organic waste it creates. Cara Morgan, an executive at state waste management branch CalRecycle, called the bill the “biggest change to happen in waste management in over 30 years.”

Monterey Regional Waste Management District spokesperson Zoë Shoats says homes and businesses that don’t already have green organic waste bins – typically used for yard waste – can receive them by request—at no charge—in January and that the agency will begin examining program effectiveness and compliance. By 2024, penalties will be issued for noncompliance.

Patrick Mathews, general manager at Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority, says the existing landfill stream is about 60-percent organic material. The goal for SVSWA is to annually divert 75,000 tons of organic food waste from the landfill by 2025. Mathews says a major challenge will be the buyback requirement for local jurisdictions. For a place such as Salinas, this means figuring out what to do with 8,000 tons of new mulch each year.

MRWMD will launch its program immediately at the start of the year. SVSWA will launch on Earth Day, April 22. Until then, they will run a pilot version of the program in Soledad to gather data on effectiveness. Soledad Mayor Anna Velazquez laughs when asked how the city will use the 2,000 tons of compost it will be required to buy each year.

“That’s a conversation we are having at the city level,” she says. “We have to be realistic about what we can use, but also about how we can be compliant.”

Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that homes and businesses within the Monterey Regional Waste Management District's jurisdiction that don't already have green composting bins will automatically receive them beginning in the January. This article has been updated to reflect the correction.

Christopher Neely covers a mixed beat that includes the environment, water politics, and Monterey County's Board of Supervisors. He began at the Weekly in 2021 after five years on the City Hall beat in Austin, TX.

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