Sacramento diverts methane through recycling organic waste
California has long been known as a leader in environmentalism, and one city is maintaining that distinction with another key move to reduce food waste. In accordance with a new statewide mandate, SB 1383, the city of Sacramento on July 1 implemented its new commercial organics recycling program and plans to target the residential base in 2022.
Per the mandate, businesses and other commercial entities in Sacramento now are required to recycle their food waste and to subscribe to an organic waste commercial service. According to the Sacramento Commercial Waste Compliance Manager Erin Treadwell, these moves are driven by addressing climate change at the individual level.
“Be it commercial or residential, the short-term climate action was the main thrust of it,” she said. “By diverting food waste out of the landfill, we potentially divert methane from being created, and that kind of thing has a real impact on climate and climate change.”
According to Treadwell, this is not the first targeted action when it comes to addressing global warming. She said there have been other statewide food diversion programs in place. For instance, there was AB 1826.
“So, a lot of businesses are already complying or needing to convert foodways,” she said. “But what 1383 does is it doubles down on what the commercial (sector) needs to do and mandates that all residential multifamily apartments, apartments, as well as single-family residents, have to divert. This will mean all food waste is diverted as the landfill across all sectors.”
For the purpose of this program, food waste includes food-soiled paper such as pizza boxes, coffee filters, paper napkins and yard trimmings. The organic waste will be taken to one of the city’s recycling processors and turned into compost and made available to customers.
On the commercial side, Treadwell said at the time of press, most businesses have already complied with the mandate, though they have until the end of the year to come online. She estimates that about 70% of businesses are already set up and actively participating.
The next frontier is the noncommercial side. In her words, “multifamily is ramping up, and they’re going to be starting up in January and having food waste in apartment buildings. And then on the residential (end), we’re looking at probably implementing sometime this summer.”
With respect to residential customers, Treadwell said they should already have some familiarity with recycling programs.
“In the city, we have three programs,” she said. “We a have mixed recycling, garbage and we have yard waste. So, for grass clippings, we have a weekly collection. A lot of jurisdictions don’t do that — they have every other week yard and every other week recycle, and the recycling yard waste weeks trade off.”
According to Treadwell, this provides a firm foundation for success. “For most of our customers, it’ll be a matter of sort of putting your food waste in your garbage container.”
Still, she expects a learning curve.
“One of the biggest challenges is going to be the food-soiled paper,” she said. “State law requires that physical paper be treated as an organic and disposed of in organics. And so people might be confused about what they put in there. For instance, pizza boxes, the paper, your Subway sandwich came in or the cup from Starbucks (are acceptable). But there’s a lot of stuff that isn’t accepted.”
To that end, she anticipates some concern about contamination — whether intentional or otherwise — at least at the outset of the residential program.
Right now, Treadwell said the city is concerned with helping businesses implement and maintain their waste diversion initiatives.
“If people have to think about ‘Where does this thing go?,’ it’s going to be a learning curve. We do believe and hope that as foodways roll out — not only in the commercial sector but at your own home— that it will become much more natural (to comply).”
However, there are exceptions to the rule. “We do have a waiver program — the law does allow for that,” said Treadwell. “If they can prove that they generate less than 20 gallons of organic material a week, then they may be able to be waived from the service. And so, we have probably close to 1,000 businesses that have submitted and been approved for that waiver.”
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