When organic waste is dumped into the trash and sent to a landfill it breaks down into methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times as potent as CO2 — pretty harmful stuff considering the culprit might be some innocent looking banana peels.
However, starting Jan. 1 Santa Monica will no longer be contributing to this climate polluting phenomenon as per the City’s new organic waste mandate all residents and businesses must recycle their organic waste.
Santa Monica is doing this in part to meet its commitment to sustainability and also to comply with Senate Bill 1383, which set a statewide goal to decrease organic waste disposal by 75 percent and increase edible food recovery by 20 percent by 2025.
In order to do their part, residents must put all of their organic waste into their green bin and ensure it stays out of their black trash and blue recycling bins.
This shouldn’t be a huge shift as approximately 90 percent of households already have the three bin system, but the City’s Resource Recovery and Recycling (RRR) team is reaching out to the remaining 10 percent to provide a bin. RRR is also running an education campaign to spread awareness of the new mandate to all residents.
“Organics are simply things that you throw away that were once alive,” said Yvonne Yeung, RRR Administrator. “That would include all of your food waste, fruits, vegetables, animal products, all the green waste, including yard trimming and plants, as well as soiled paper, so think about greasy napkins or paper straws.”
Although the concept is fairly simple, it does require that residents sort their trash mindfully. For example, when disposing of a takeout pizza the clean dry lid can be removed and placed in the blue recycling bin, while the greasy bottom and any food scraps must go in the green bin. Food soiled recyclables cannot be put directly into blue recycling bins, so even a plastic yogurt container needs to be rinsed out before it can be recycled.
Yeung said that the easiest way to come into compliance with the mandate and help support the environment is to start by focusing on reducing organic waste.
“Everybody can do it… all it requires is a behavioral shift, so next time before you request a free sample or before you grab the extra forks and knives or those extra napkins from a drive thru, think about ‘do I really need that extra napkin? Or is it just going to go into the green bin anyway?’,” said Yeung.
Yeung’s other top piece of advice is for residents to find an organic waste storage mechanism that works for them, so that they are not constantly walking back and forth from their green bin.
One suggestion is to keep a food waste bag in the fridge or freezer to minimize odors and then to empty it into the green bin once a week. Another solution is to utilize a small organic waste pail to collect scraps in, which RRR conveniently offers to residents at a subsidized rate of $15.
Residents with outdoor space might be interested in composting their organic waste instead of putting it in the green bin. Subsidized composting bins are also available from RRR and residents can purchase a bin or pail by emailing email@example.com.
If residents store organic waste in a bag that they then throw out, they must make sure the bag is 100 percent compostable and not simply biodegradable. Yeung said to look out for products that say 100 percent compostable and ASTM D6400 certified.
While this may seem like a lot to keep track of, these bags can easily be purchased online or at several of Santa Monica’s grocery stores.
Under SB 1383 the organic waste mandate is enforceable by law and the City of Santa Monica is required to monitor compliance. If households or businesses repeatedly receive warnings about not putting the right materials in the right bin and do not change their habits, they could be issued a citation.
Yeung said that this is a last resort and that RRR and the City’s primary focus is educating residents about the mandate.
“Santa Monica put this organics recycling requirement in place because it’s the right thing to do for the environment,” said Yeung. “By keeping organics… out of the landfill and by capturing these materials in your green bin, which can then be recycled and turned into reusable products, you’re helping to fight for climate change.