Green waste recycling
Organic waste recycling in California. Image from state video

It’s easy to be discouraged by dire government reports showing how little time we have to reverse the effects of climate change. But in San Diego County, every single person can make a difference by reducing and recycling organic waste: food scraps and yard trimmings. 

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When organic materials break down in the landfill, they create methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more damaging than carbon dioxide. By reducing how much food we waste, donating edible food, and properly recycling the rest, we can make a major difference in mitigating climate change.

Organic material can be recycled through composting or anaerobic digestion into a nutrient-rich soil amendment or into renewable natural gas which both prevent emissions and are environmentally beneficial. Compost applied on 5% of California’s rangelands would sequester almost 30 million tons of carbon dioxide over three years. And renewable natural gas can substitute for damaging fossil fuels.

This year, California is making it easier than ever to recycle your organic waste. Here’s what to expect, plus how you can prepare for this change and be a part of the solution for our climate. 

What to Expect 

Some San Diego area cities have already begun processing food scraps from homes and businesses. For those that haven’t, your waste hauler will send notification with instructions when the service starts and deliver a green organic waste bin for you to use if you don’t already have one. 

This is happening because of  Senate Bill 1383, a new California state law that went into effect on January 1, 2022, that requires Californians to separate our food scraps from landfill-bound trash the way we treat recyclables. 

At Solana Center for Environmental Innovation, we work with cities to offer solutions for residents and businesses to learn how to generate less waste and properly dispose of it in order to comply with SB 1383. This law has the potential to have an enormous impact on climate change throughout California, where an estimated 20% of all methane emissions come from landfilled organic material. And in San Diego, 36% of the waste in our landfills is organic. As environmentalists, we are excited to see the impact when San Diegans step up and make these simple changes. 

Making the Change

Change is daunting, but it’s easy once you start with small changes and build to more sustainable habits. Here’s how to start. 

  1. Learn what organic waste is. Organic waste is anything that was once living. Starting this summer, waste haulers will be collecting scraps from meal preparation, plate scrapings, food-soiled paper, spoiled inedible food, and grass clippings/yard trimmings in those green bins. 
  1. See how much organic waste you produce. For an entire day put aside all your food scraps—trimmings, peels, unwanted food, leftovers, bones, etc.—as part of  Solana Center’s Kitchen Caddy Challenge. You don’t need a special container, you can just use a large bowl or bucket. I promise you will be surprised by how much food waste goes into your trash can. 
  1. Shop for and prepare food mindfully. Before heading to the store, check the fridge and pantry. Remember that “best by” and “use by” dates are guidelines. Rely on your senses to tell you if something has spoiled or if it is still edible. Create a meal plan to use up what you already have, and make a shopping list of only what’s missing.
  1. Put an organic waste receptacle in your home. Now’s the time to start getting into the habit of separating your organic waste from the rest of your trash, just like you do with other recyclables. To keep it simple, we recommend using a kitchen caddy to collect your food scraps. 
  1. No green bin? No problem. If organic waste recycling isn’t available in your neighborhood yet, you may have a community composting program nearby like Solana Center’s Food Cycle. Each 25-pound bucket of food waste you bring to our Encinitas headquarters keeps 17 gallons of carbon dioxide equivalent in greenhouse gas emissions from damaging our atmosphere and helps us create nutrient-rich compost for healthy soil. 

In the aftermath of Earth Day, I challenge you to embrace climate optimism. Systemic change comes about from the actions of individuals, which build a big impact. Learn about how your community is complying with SB 1383, how to reduce the amount of food your family and workplace wastes, and how to properly dispose of organic waste.

You can also learn to compost your organic waste and make nutrient-rich compost for your garden (I promise it’s fun and rewarding!). Throughout the year, Solana Center offers free workshops on composting, waste reduction, and green living. 

By managing our organic waste properly, together we can reduce the emissions of damaging greenhouse gasses. Our planet depends on each of us to care. 

Jessica Toth is the Executive Director of Solana Center for Environmental Innovation, a San Diego-area environmental nonprofit that focuses on soil, water, and waste. Solana Center is supporting jurisdictions across San Diego County as they roll out their organic waste reduction, diversion, collection, and recycling plans under SB 1383.