Waste: The new rules impact the city’s garbage stream. Courtesy photo

All Santa Monica households and businesses will be required to recycle their organic waste starting Jan 1 following a vote by City Council this week.

The new rules fulfill a state mandate and align with the City’s zero waste goals.

Under the system, every building will be provided with a green bin, where all organic waste can be disposed of, be it food scraps, garden waste, paper, wood or food-soiled paper products.

This organic waste can be converted into compost, renewable gas or renewable electricity for buildings. Organic waste recycling also serves the environmental benefit of reducing the emission of methane, which is a greenhouse gas 72 to 84 times as potent as CO2.

When organic waste is dumped into landfills and deprived from oxygen, it produces mass amounts of methane. In 2019, landfills were responsible for 21 percent of California’s total methane emissions.

Santa Monica’s new organic waste mandate will bring the City into compliance with Senate Bill 1383, which was passed in 2016 and sets a goal to divert 50 percent of landfill waste by 2022 and 75 percent by 2025. It will also help the City meet its own target to achieve zero waste through landfill diversion and recycling by 2030.

“We all want to do our part to reduce materials sent to the landfill and methane production, and now we have a big opportunity by properly recycling our everyday food and green waste,” said Mayor Sue Himmelrich in a statement. “Santa Monica residents and businesses have an impressive track record going above and beyond for the environment, and I anticipate this will be no different.”

Currently 91 percent of households already have access to a green waste bin. The City will provide bins to the remaining 1,500 users by the end of the year and will also start an education campaign notifying residents and businesses of the requirement. There are very limited exemptions granted in instances where buildings do not have physical space for bin storage or when residents produce a minimal amount of organic waste per week.

Councilmembers passed the mandate unanimously and were excited about the environmental benefits, however there was concern expressed over how it would affect families living in apartments.

“When you have your own home, it’s easier to separate your food trash and just put it out,” said Davis, adding that this is not the case for apartment dwellers. “I hope we can think about other opportunities out there not only to educate, but for smaller receptacles that people might want to consider getting access to so that they can do that separately inside.”

City staff explained that all residents and especially those in apartments can utilize kitchen pails to store their organic waste before bringing it out to green bins. Staff said they would explore potential grant programs to supply these smaller containers to residents free of charge, but that in the meantime residents can buy them through the Resource, Recovery and Recycling Division with a 50 percent subsidy. Kitchen pails cost $15.30 and can be purchased by contacting the division at recycling@santamonica.gov or (310) 458-2223.

SB 1383 also set a goal to increase edible food recovery by 20 percent by 2025. In order to work towards that goal Santa Monica is participating in a County food program that recovers excess food from businesses and donates it to food distribution charities.

While this requirement does not impact most residents, it does apply to approximately 40 of Santa Monica’s largest food waste generators, such as grocery stores of over 10,000 square feet and large hotels.