SAN DIEGO — Local and state lawmakers are pushing to reduce the amount of food waste going into landfills over the next few years through new composting programs.

Many of these programs are looking to bring the region up to compliance with a California law, Senate Bill 1393, that addresses organic waste disposal as part of a larger goal for reducing pollutants released in the state.

Introducing composting into households to divert garbage that from landfills is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to help the climate, experts say.

Here’s a breakdown of everything to know about composting, new organic waste disposal services in the region and how to incorporate the practice into your home.

What is composting

Composting is a sustainable way to dispose of organic materials, like food scraps, through a process of decomposition. It’s essentially “nature’s way of recycling,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, converting these materials into a nutrient-rich soil or mulch.

The practice of composting is widely considered one of the most powerful, yet simple actions to address the issue of climate change.

How does composting fight climate change

That benefit from composting, according to the EPA, directly reduces the amount of discarded material put in landfills and trash incinerators that emit harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

About 40% of food grown in the U.S. is never eaten, according to the county, and San Diegans are estimated to waste up to $2,000 a year on this food that is never consumed.

Those scraps, as well as other compostable materials, are some of the largest contributors to landfills in the country.

U.S. landfills and trash incinerators receive about 167 million tons of garbage, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. About 21% of that is food scraps alone, while 15% is paper or paperboard, 8% is yard trimmings and another 8% is wood waste.

New state requirements on organic waste disposal

SB 1383 is a bill passed by the California State Senate in 2016 that implemented a swath of strategies for the state’s Air Resources Board to reduce short-lived climate pollutants, including greenhouse gases like methane.

Among these strategies is a requirement for reducing statewide disposal of organic waste by 75% by 2025, going into effect at the beginning of last year. Part of this guideline requires every jurisdiction in the state to provide organic waste collection services to residents and businesses.

How does SB 1383 impact San Diego

San Diegans will be receiving new green bins to disposing of organic waste, in addition to the traditional black and blue.

The new bin will be used for mixed materials, like food scraps, yard trimmings and food soiled paper or paper products. Glass and metals, plastic bags, containers, “biodegradable” plastic products, pet waste, diapers, and dirt are among the things that would not go in the green bin.

A list of what can and cannot be put into the green bins can be found here.

This waste will be collected by garbage crews weekly and disposed of in city-run composting facilities. Aside from sorting out the items to put in the bin, there is no extra work for households required under this program.

The City of San Diego began delivering these new bins to residents in the last few months and will continue until at least August. Residents will receive the bins based on the current trash collection day.

A screenshot of the schedule for delivery of green bins for City of San Diego homes on the Environmental Services website. (Screenshot by KSWB/FOX 5)
A screenshot of the schedule for delivery of green bins for City of San Diego homes on the Environmental Services website. (Screenshot by KSWB/FOX 5)

Composting in unincorporated county areas

For residents living in unincorporated areas of San Diego County, there are some exceptions to the new composting regulations. Under the County’s regulations for organic material recycling, individuals are required to subscribe to compost collection services from a provider.

There are some exemptions available for residents in unincorporated areas. Sparsely-populated regions, for instance, are not required to participate. To figure out if your address falls in one of these areas, check on this map.

Those who do not have an established exemption can apply for a waiver from the county. More information on the waiver can be found here.

The county recommends that residents in unincorporated areas either check with your trash hauler or local jurisdiction to learn more about what requirements or services will be in place for your home.

Composting on your own

If you are not getting one of the new green bins but you still want to compost on your own, there are a couple different options for you.

There are two main kinds of composting: outdoor compositing and vermicomposting.

Outdoor composting is the most common kind of at-home composting, generally involving a bin or a container. For anyone looking to get into outdoor composting, the county offers a bin voucher program for residents of unincorporated areas.

For fastest results, it’s recommended to have 50% greens, 50% browns, water and air.

“Greens,” according to the county, are things that are high in nitrogen, including fresh yard trimmings, grass clippings, fruit, breads, tea leaves and coffee grinds. “Browns” are materials that are high in carbon, such as dead or dried yard debris, branches, sawdust, wood, tea bags and paper products.

Vermicomposting, on the other hand, involves using Red Wiggler worms to convert food into worm castings. More information on vermicomposting can be found here.

The Solana Center in North County also hosts free workshops on all kinds of composting for those who want to learn more about the recycling practice.

However your household chooses to get involved in composting, you’re sure to be making a difference.