There’s a lot of buzz surrounding a new waste management law coming out of the American West. California has established a new composting mandate as part of the state’s mission to reduce food waste in landfills by 75%. The state admittedly set an original goal of reducing waste by 50% in 2020, but failed to meet that target. But it’s ever too late to try again!
The CA compost law is part of SB 1383, which was passed in 2016. The program will involve managing compostable material for residential and commercial waste, including grocery stores and restaurants. By the end of 2024, the law is expected to have taken effect in every municipality across California.
If you came with a specific question, feel free to skip ahead:
- What is the California compost law & why is it important?
- What you should know about the California composting fines
- Where will all the compost go?
- 4 other simple ways to deal with food waste in California
- What is the best way to compost at home in California?
Now, let’s get our hands dirty with the details of the California composting regulations.
What is the California’s new compost law & why is it important?
California has begun to roll out its state-wide composting mandate which is set to take effect in every municipality across California over the next two years. In essence, the program will provide every resident of California with access to curbside bins with an expectation that organic waste be separated from other trash. There will also be a fine for non-compliance. This means that each county and all residents will be held accountable for their food waste and its environmental footprint.
The main political motivator to adopt this practice? Climate change. Reducing food waste in landfills by 75% is the equivalent of taking 1.7 million gas-powered cars off the road for a year. With California generating 23 million tons of organic waste annually, the impact of the this program will be massive.
What you should know about the California composting fines
Fines make any new law sound scary. Especially for residents of the state, this might be casting a shadow over any excitement for the impact of composting. Don’t worry, we’ve got all the details to put you and your trash at ease.
How much will I be fined for incorrect waste disposal?
Starting in 2024, there will be fines associated with contaminating your organic waste. First offenders will be charged $50 to $100, with further failures to meet the requirements costing you up to $500.
Will they know if I compost incorrectly?
While the details are still being worked out, L.A. city sanitation says “ambassadors” will first inform people wrongly disposing of waste, and from there assign penalties as a last resort.
Will fines pay for the new composting program?
No, unfortunately the organic waste collection services won't pay for themselves. Most local governments expect waste collection rates to increase less than 20%, with 1 in 5 cities saying they expect charges to go up more. One California area long acquainted with recycling organic waste estimates that over nine years, their monthly rates rose by over $6 per month.
Where will all the compost go?
California residents may be wondering where their vegetable scraps are going to end up. In an ideal world, all organic waste would be converted to soil-like compost and used for agriculture. When compost is put to use on farms, more carbon is stored and less synthetic fertilizer is used. Many experts say that crop yield and nutrient quality of food also increases when compost is used in farming.
That being said, there are currently no mandates on where the compost ends up or the quality of the product. There is a very high demand for compost in agriculture, but many farmers can’t afford to buy it. However, hopefully as more organic waste management facilities in California are built, prices will fall.
Some counties may end up selling compost to residents or donating it to community gardens. Overall, the sustainability of the new mandate rests heavily on how the compost is used.
4 other simple ways to deal with food waste in California
While communities do plan on providing residents and businesses with compost bins, there are many inconveniences associated with this. Firstly, composting with organic waste collection services can be smelly, messy, and come with a leaky-bag problem. Secondly, it is unclear how your compost is going to be used.
Let’s explore some other options for managing your food waste.
1. Use an electric composter
Electric composters are by far the easiest way to compost your food waste. With the click of a button, your food scraps will be transformed into nutrient-rich dirt in just a few hours. This dirt is perfect to be added to houseplants, gardens, or even your lawn. Better yet, the end product can also go into your new green bin without the fear of a fine.
Electric composters such as Lomi also go a step further than organic waste collection–not only do they break down coffee grounds, egg shells, and dinner scrapings, but also bioplastics, meat scraps, yard trimmings, and paper products. Lomi loosens the rules around composting compared to your green bin, while fitting right on your countertop.
Electric composters are among the only composting solutions for apartment buildings and multifamily complexes, especially with garbage disposals now being discouraged. Buying an electric composter means no smells or mess, and gives you access to the soil you produce.
2. Try traditional composting techniques
Many areas of California, such as LA, Santa Monica, and San Francisco, have a great climate to try traditional composting. If you are looking to start recycling your own organic waste, there are plenty of techniques to try. This is a good option for those that have outdoor space.
The easiest way to go about traditional composting is cold composting. To do this, simply set up a designated area for organic waste, and throw your food scraps in there to be broken down naturally. This is, however, the most time consuming option.
There are so many different methods of composting both indoors and outdoors, most of which require slightly more time and attention.The most important thing is to choose a solution that works for you for disposing of your organic materials. For more inspiration and information on the topic, check out our blog.
3. Worm composting
Even if you’re afraid of insects, don’t just skip over this section. Worm composting, also known as vermicomposting, is another common method of breaking down your food waste. In short, this method involves adding a specific type of worm to your compost bin. This accelerates the process and can produce an extra-healthy end result.
Indoor composting typically uses worms, as it ensures a smooth and efficient breakdown. However, composting inside is absolutely possible without the use of our squirmy friends.
4. Donate your organic waste
It may seem like a strange thing to give away, but there are many people and organizations in need of compostable material. Community gardens, schools, and other local initiatives often have composting programs that can help with your own food waste diversion practices.
If you own a business, programs such as Zero Foodprint offer amazing services. In preparation for California’s new composting law, the organization is preparing to help match farmers with free compost from cities and counties that need to give away their state-assigned compost levels.
And don’t forget about food that isn’t quite spoiled. A large percentage of food waste is edible and within quality standards for donation. In fact, the new mandate will require businesses to donate edible food to food banks and charities. Donating is an amazing way to limit food waste and help people in need.
This goes to show that what we typically think of as “trash” has great utility to our greater community and the environment. Next time you send a banana peel to the landfill, think twice about where it could be needed.
What is the best way to compost at home in California?
Overall, the best way to compost in California comes down to the time, space, and odor tolerance that you have. If you are a busy person, don’t have a backyard, or don’t love a stinky pile of food building up at home, Lomi is by far your best choice.
With Lomi, your food waste, bioplastics and paper products will be quickly broken down into ready-to-use dirt. Lomi operates quietly and fits right on your kitchen counter. With replaceable carbon filters and a metal bucket, bad smells or leaky bags will never be a problem again. Plus, the threat of incorrect sorting fines goes out the window.
If you have outdoor space and time, traditional composting is an awesome method and fun hobby. Make sure to do your research, and use your compost soil effectively once it's finished.
The city of Los Angeles alone is planning to expand food waste recycling from 18,000 homes now to the remaining 730,000 customers by early next year. Beginning next summer, curbside bins should be accessible to all. The most exciting aspect may be the ripple effect that California has on other areas of the country and globe.
If you’re curious to learn more about preparing your home for the composting revolution, check out Lomi and see why people love it. However you choose to dispose of your waste, our blogs will always be here to answer your questions.
Written by: Cassia Attard