Compost Concerns

Backyard composting is still allowed – but the new law means materials that don’t break down well in a worm bin, like eggshells and bones, will go to industrial facilities for composting instead of trash.

When it comes to California’s new composting law, people have questions. Many, many questions.

SB 1383 requires waste management authorities to divert 75 percent of food scraps from the landfill. The law targets methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is released while food decomposes in the landfill.

This new year brings new habits: placing food scraps in a composting container separate from your garbage, then dumping it into the yard waste bin to be hauled away. The law requires a major behavior shift in waste management that begins in the kitchen, at the decision point of where to dispose of that wilted kale.

Here are some of the top questions from Weekly readers.

What goes in the compost bin?

Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority’s succinct guidance is: If it grows, it goes. That mostly applies, though there are some exceptions. Raw meat still goes in the garbage, as do tougher plants, such as cactus, agave, palm, yucca, bamboo, pampas and poison oak. All liquids, including grease, fats and oils should stay away from the compost as well. Compostable flatware, such as forks, lids and containers are explicitly prohibited.

I already use my food scraps for my own backyard compost. Do I now have to give that away?

No. Zoë Shoats, spokesperson for the Monterey Regional Waste Management District, says “home composting is preferred from an environmental standpoint.” However, the new law means residents will essentially have access to an industrial composter, which can divert organic materials that are difficult to use in backyard compost.

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Do I really have to throw food scraps straight into my outdoor green bin without a trash bag? Gross!

Similar to recycling, the county’s waste management authorities are prohibiting plastic bags from green bins. Shoats recommends, if feasible, storing food scraps in the freezer until pickup day so food is not rotting away in your green bin all week. To reduce the yuck factor, she also recommends layering the bottom of the bin with yard waste (like leaves or branches) before adding food scraps.

Although officials at SVSWA and MRWMD recommend against it, they will not penalize residents for using BPI-certified compostable bags in their green-waste bins. At both facilities, BPI bags aren’t allowed in compost and will have to be tediously removed by hand; however, unlike plastic, no one will be penalized for using BPI bags.

I don’t have a yard waste bin. Will I get fined for not participating?

All single-family homes within the county should have yard waste bins as part of their regular waste hauling service. However, multifamily units, such as apartment and condo complexes, are less likely to already have yard waste bins and they will not automatically receive them.

Paul Rosynsky, spokesperson for Waste Management, says they are encouraging landlords to reach out so the waste haulers can assess how best to service the property.

The punitive aspect of the new law does not come into play until 2024, and cities will be responsible for setting penalties.

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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