In an effort to help businesses and multifamily complexes comply with state recycling mandates and improve the community’s environmental footprint, the city of Santa Maria, Calif., has implemented programs to educate the public and give them the tools they need to work toward a more sustainable future.
Meeting the mandates
Since 2011, has developed and employed a number of recycling mandates including Assembly Bill 341, which sets forth the statewide commercial recycling requirements for businesses and multifamily dwellings that generate more than four cubic yards of waste each week. In 2014, AB 1826 required businesses and multifamily dwellings to recycle organic waste, with jurisdictions implementing organic waste recycling programs to process the material. The statute was phased in over a four-year period beginning in 2016 and included food waste, green waste, landscape and pruning waste, nonhazardous wood waste and soiled paper.
According to Herb Cantu, deputy director and solid waste manager for Santa Maria’s utilities department, the city encourages businesses to increase the amount of waste that they recycle not only to comply with the mandates, but also to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserve landfill capacity.
“The city offers a three-container-bin solid waste management program – trash, single-stream recycling and organics collection – to its customers and also deploys various marketing campaigns to help educate the public about what can go into the appropriate containers,” he said.
In addition, it hosts various events at which it distributes indoor recycling containers in varying sizes to commercial businesses and conducts audits to ensure customers are using the containers to store appropriate materials. The audits allow the city to educate a customer if a practical adjustment can be made.
“When it comes to organics recycling, the city has a commercial organics recycling outreach program. We have recycling specialists visiting all of the commercial businesses on our organics program and providing them with indoor organics containers,” Cantu said. “We also have specific marketing campaigns on organics recycling to educate the community, including commercial businesses.”
By the numbers
Based on the third quarter 2022 reporting period, commercial recycling made up about 54% of the total amount of recyclables collected by Santa Maria collection vehicles. Organic waste recycling made up 7% of the total amount of organic waste collected by the city from commercial businesses. Since the indoor recycle container program began in 2019, the city has distributed 94 indoor organics containers – 45 of which are used by businesses – and 175 indoor recycling containers, 100 of which are being used by businesses. Businesses are eligible to receive up to three containers of either size or combination, and the containers are paid for by a grant from CalRecycle as well as the solid waste collection fund.
To evaluate the effectiveness of the program, Cantu said a study is being conducted at Santa Maria Regional Landfill to determine how many recyclable materials remain within a trash or refuse container through a waste characterization study. Staff will tailor the city’s outreach and education programs as information is received.
“The biggest challenge for most businesses is contamination,” Cantu said. “The city is working closely with restaurants to develop their training and educational programs for their staff and customers.”
Consistent training and education are vital due to employee turnover. The city has also developed training and signage resources that can be used by the businesses, although they will continue to work closely with those businesses to maximize the diversion of recyclable materials – including organic waste – from the landfill.
Cantu said the city’s goal for the future is to increase the amount of recyclable materials collected from businesses and to reduce overall contamination from businesses. It is also moving toward reducing the number of recyclable materials coming from businesses self-hauling their waste directly to the Santa Maria Regional Landfill.
In the future, the city plans to reduce the amount of edible food that a business may dispose of or divert for compost. In September 2016, Gov. Edmund Brown Jr. set methane emissions reduction targets for the state in an effort to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants, which authorized CalRecycle to establish statewide goals of increasing edible food recovery by 20 percent and reducing organic waste disposal by 75% by 2025.
Cantu added that other cities are looking to reduce their carbon footprint in the business sector and deploy programs similar to what Santa Maria has implemented, so communication has been key. “Do as much education and outreach as you can, and model it after direct input that you receive from the customer and waste characterization studies,” he advised.