Green waste recycling
Organic waste recycling in San Jose. Image from State of California video

Forget coyotes, bad drivers, and potholes. The hot new topic for complaints on San Diego’s online community forums is an outcropping of green bins on residential curbs and in business alleyways.

Perhaps you have seen one, perhaps you have one, or perhaps this is news to you. Maybe you heard whisperings about a new organic recycling law, or maybe you recently moved from the Bay Area and you are thrilled to reinstate practices you followed up north. No matter where you fall, compliance with the state law Senate Bill 1383 is required by 2024. It is time to get to work.

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For those at the nonprofit where I work, Solana Center for Environmental Innovation, the green bins are old news. SB 1383, born out of California’s Short-Lived Pollutant Reduction Strategy and made into law in 2016, is our bread and butter: we live the mantra “less to landfill”.

Due to our 40-year commitment to reduce waste, jurisdictions throughout San Diego County contracted us to assist them in rollout. Nearly 25,000 San Diegans and 11,453 businesses contacted later, the Solana Center staff marches onward with increasing outreach efforts and learning about the intricacies of statewide organic recycling legislation.

There is a grander element to organic material recycling and diversion, why we are so dedicated to education about it, and why the legislation was created to address the issue. We can see the regional impact of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Although food waste seems significantly less sinister than plastic waste (doesn’t the food just rot?), organic material in the landfill generates methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. The harmful and wasteful nature of our current organic waste system is unknown to many, and falls under the radar as plastic recycling and CO2 footprints take center stage of the climate discussion.

Undoubtedly, there is a need for education on this issue. But there is one apparent hurdle we cannot immediately overcome with residential presentations and upbeat attitudes: aggressive resistance to accepting the new law, SB 1383.

Of course, I urge you to check your city’s and waste hauler’s guidance to familiarize yourself with what California will expect of you and how best to handle it. But I am also here to tell you that your perspective on SB 1383 might need to change, too.

I field calls and interact with members of the San Diego region community every day who come to us with their personal feelings, not just questions, about the law. We hear from supporters and enthusiastic residents who are eager for this law to have its full effect for the environment and to feed people in need. We also confront frustrations.

Understandably, many of you are unaware of the law or what it requires and you are overwhelmed by the prospect of shaking up your routine, especially for something you believe to be so messy, smelly, and pest-attracting. Even more of you feel that you do not have the time in your exponentially busy life to adopt a new and seemingly complicated sorting system at home or in your business.

Perhaps most poignantly, you simply do not reap the benefits — you do not get to put a number or an image to the positive impact of your contribution. While it seems your doing-good has nothing you can show for, we beg to differ. We have calculated that the average household diverts 25 pounds of waste a month. That adds up quickly!

Preventing the climate crisis through large-scale methane emission reduction is an unselfish endeavor, as is feeding San Diego’s hungry via the edible food available for recovery through donations. Both of these ambiguous, ambitious goals are realistic targets of SB 1383.

It is a law built for our community. It will fuel our trash trucks, redistribute food that would otherwise go to waste, and hopefully secure a future for our children and grandchildren by demonstrating the viability of a national organic recycling legislation and mitigating climate-warming methane gas production.

In the United States, 35% of all food is waste, and 40% of that wasted food occurs at the household level. There is enormous potential to reduce these numbers without much trouble. We ought to pave the way!

SB 1383 is for everyone, and your small, individual part is both important and also necessary, as is your enthusiasm and willingness to take part in the mission. The longer you drag your feet, the harder this will get.

I promise that the adoption of organics recycling is not as difficult, messy, smelly, or time-consuming as you imagine it to be. Those of us who are long-time environmental stewards can show that organics recycling is about as simple and painless as waste management gets. And we assure you that there is no shame in trying and failing, only in outright resistance. Plus, you would be lying if you said you’d like a landfill in your backyard.

If we keep sending things “away” in the trash , it eventually must go somewhere — let’s do what we can to let it go back to the earth!

Emma Palmer is a recent UC San Diego graduate and a San Diego native and a staff member at Solana Center for Environmental Innovation. She intends to pursue a P.h.D in environmental policy and has a keen interest in community solutions for the climate crisis.