Recycle food waste to cut emissions: CA ushers in new law

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A new law requires Californians to recycle their food scraps and other leftovers. While many cities and municipalities are still deciding how to apply the new regulations, the City of Santa Monica is mandating residents to use the green bin to recycle all fruit and vegetable scraps, along with egg shells, dairy products, meat, bones, coffee grounds, tea bags, as well as food-soiled papers. Photo by Shutterstock.

This year, a new California law is asking you to start recycling food scraps to help improve the health of the planet. The type of organic materials that are accepted could vary depending on where you live. As some communities hammer out the details, the City of Santa Monica already has recycling programs up and running.  

Yvonne Yeung, resource recovery and recycling administrator for the city, explains which food scraps can be recycled, and shares tips on minimizing food waste odor.  

What’s behind this push to recycle organic material?

Yvonne Yeung: Organic waste that sits in a landfill emits methane gas. And methane gas is what they call a climate super pollutant that can be up to 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. 

By diverting organic waste away from the landfill, capturing them and sending them to a recycling facility where they can be turned into renewable products such as compost and mulch and renewable energy, you are doing something really good for the environment.

A lot of people might say, “I don’t generate much food waste, a few scraps here and there. What’s the big deal?” What would you say to that?

I would say that climate change is a real issue. Sometimes it just feels like this big abstract thing and that somebody should do something, but I don't know where to start. Senate Bill 1383 is telling us that we can all take action starting from home.

What are tips for minimizing the odor of food scraps? 

Number one: You can keep your food waste in the fridge or freezer in a reusable bag or a container to neutralize odor. And once a week on trash day, you take out your food scraps and put them directly in the green bin.

Number two: We prefer no bags. You can put your food waste directly into your green bin without a bag. But if you have to use a bag to keep things less messy, you can use a paper bag, because paper bags are considered a natural fiber. 

What kinds of food scraps can be recycled?  

All fruits and vegetables are accepted in the green bin. You can also put in things like egg shells, dairy products, meat, bones, coffee grounds, tea bags, as well as food-soiled papers. This includes greasy napkins, the bottom greasy part of a pizza box, paper straws. 

Is there anything food-related that you don't take?

Not really.

If you live in an apartment, do you have access to a green container? 

Absolutely. In the City of Santa Monica, we have been providing green containers to residents for many years, especially for residents that live in single family homes. 

What Senate Bill 1383 does is require all California cities to provide a green container to all residents and all businesses. People that live in apartments will now have a way to have a green container at their building and recycle their food waste. 

How are you going to enforce this bill? Will someone be checking trash cans to make sure we don’t throw our apple cores in the landfill bin?

Senate Bill 1383 does give local jurisdictions the authority to do enforcement. But I want to emphasize that in the City of Santa Monica, our first and foremost focus is on education and outreach. We don't want to go around giving out tickets right away. 

Our job is to make sure we get the word out. We want to make sure that people know how to recycle and how to recycle properly. We want people to know what goes into each bin, and that’s going to be our primary focus right now.



  • Yvonne Yeung - Resource recovery and recycling administrator, City of Santa Monica


Chery Glaser