Changes to How San Gabriel Valley’s Organic Food Waste Is Handled

This article first appeared in the ColoradoBoulevard.net December 2020 print edition.

a woman holds a bucket with food waste

Composting (photo – Tim Jewett)

Changes are coming soon to the way yard and food waste are handled here in the San Gabriel Valley and across California.

By William J. Kelly

Each year, says CalRecycle, more than 20 million tons of organic waste goes into landfills in California where it eventually produces methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Composting organic waste does not create methane. That is, why beginning in 2022, 50 percent of the organic waste now going into landfills must be composted under a 2016 state law (SB 1383) aimed at reducing methane. By 2025, a 75 percent reduction in organic waste going to landfills is required.

Here in the San Gabriel Valley, Athens Services, which picks up most household refuse, plans to haul organic waste to a composting facility in the high desert near Victorville. Residents will be required to separate food waste from other trash and yard waste, all in separate containers for pickup. Separate pickup of organic waste is expected to result in modest increases in trash collection bills. So far, so good, you might say.

But here’s the hitch. Athens will haul the organic waste about 80 miles up the Cajon Pass to the compost facility in big-rig trucks, mostly diesel-powered. Even if those trucks eventually run on natural gas, they will continue to pour both smog-forming pollutants and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, these truck emissions will diminish the greenhouse gas reduction achieved by composting the organic waste.

In defense of Athens, the company had limited choices of locations for the massive compost facility. In the Los Angeles Basin, both land costs and stringent air pollution control rules make it expensive to locate large-scale composting facilities.

However, all is not lost. Residents can reduce the need for the truck trips by keeping as much of their organic waste as possible at home. Here are some things you can do:

  • Set up a vermiculture bin, even in an apartment or townhome. The resulting worm castings and tea can be used to fertilize potted plants or patio garden beds.
  • Compost as much food and yard waste as possible and use it to enrich soil in your yard.
  • Mow your lawn with a self-mulching There’s no need to rake lawn trimmings with such mowers because they create very fine material that quickly degrades.
  • Make your own mulch at home. Grinders capable of handling leaves and light wood, say from hedge trimming, begin at as little as $150 and run on electricity, which increasingly is made from emissions-free solar panels and wind turbines.

By taking these steps, you’ll save money on fertilizer, commercial mulch, and compost while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

> This article appeared in the ColoradoBoulevard.net December 2020 print edition.

William J. Kelly
4 comments to “Changes to How San Gabriel Valley’s Organic Food Waste Is Handled”
  1. Thanks for your comments. Yes, when organic matter decomposes in the absence of oxygen, for instance, when it’s buried in landfills, it produces methane, which is a more powerful global warming gas. It’s also true that methane is captured at landfills, particularly those around Los Angeles, and burned to produce power. So that’s already being done here, but not everywhere in the nation or world. Ideally, as the waste industry starts to pickup household food waste and yard waste separately for composting, the cities will work with the haulers to provide people with compost and worm bins for home composting, or at least buy down their price for people, like has been done with rain barrels or utilities do for energy efficient appliances and smart thermostats.

  2. Hi William,
    We read your article with interest.

    Julie and I compost all of our kitchen waste. Nothing fancy just two plastic trash barrels. We just let it decompose for up to a year and use it in the garden.

    I am not clear on the the chemistry of decomposition, but assume that composting in a home setting produces CO2 while in high volume it produces methane gases. The difference being the availability of oxygen. Is this Correct or not? We have heard that in certain landfills methane is tapped to generate electricity. Is this not being considered as one solution?
    Sincerely,
    Peter & Julie Parker

  3. There need to be financial incentives to purchase composting bins, mulch grinders, etc. just like there are incentives for rain barrels and EnergyStar appliances.

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