SAN DIEGO — The City of San Diego is nearly complete with its rollout of green bins for composting.

Officials said they have already given out more than 200,000 bins to residents and the only neighborhood that still needs them is Mission Beach.

Community leaders reached out to the city and asked for the delivery for Mission Beach to be delayed until September, which is the end of tourism season for the beach community, said Matthew Cleary, Assistant Director of Environmental Services.

Nearly every San Diego resident should now have the small kitchen pails and large green bins for composting, but many still have questions about the program.

What can go inside the green bin?

The city says it’s easy to remember, ‘if it grows, it goes’ in the green bin. If the waste is edible, grew out of the ground or from a tree, it can be placed in the green bin.

That includes yard clippings, food waste and food-soiled paper. Plastic can not go inside the bin. There are some nuances, such as parchment paper, which can go in the green bin, but wax paper cannot.

“What can’t go in the green bin, and this is really important – plastic, anything plastic, glass, metal, anything we don’t want contaminating the compost,” Cleary said.

Where does the organic waste go?

It becomes a renewable resource and is converted into compost used for water conservation, plant growth and more.

Composting turns the ‘bad food’ into something good for the environment. This includes renewable resources like compost for gardens and renewable natural gas. At the same time, composting stops the harmful greenhouse gas methane.

“When organic waste is left to decompose in the landfill, it creates methane,” Cleary said. “Methane is actually a super pollutant.”

Does this make a difference?

The data shows the recent rollout is already working.

The city said organic waste had counted for 40% of trash in landfills, but this program has already started to change that number.

“San Diego is already making a significant impact, comparing last July to this July, we saw a 300,000 ton decrease in trash and we saw a corresponding 300,000 ton increase in organic waste collected,” Cleary said.

The city says San Diegans had typically wasted about 500,000 tons of food each year.

The city said in the golden state, 20 percent of methane comes from organic waste in landfills.

What about the smell?

The city said there are tricks to stopping the stink including:

  • Sprinkling in baking soda
  • Layering your food waste with yard clippings, newspapers, or the ads you get in the mail. This helps to absorb the moisture.
  • Keep your kitchen pail in the fridge or freezer until collection day
  • The bins can be cleaned with soap and water.

Why is this required?

This is part of the city’s push for zero waste by 2040, but also part of a California State Senate Bill 1383 (SB 1383), which requires the reduction of organic waste in landfills.

The city is required by the state law to begin enforcement on composting in January 2024. Cleary said San Diego is taking an education-first approach and will continue to teach residents about composting, but the bill outlines a fee structure, where egregious offenders could be fined.

The details of how the enforcement procedure will work have not been finalized by the city yet.

“We are seeing a less than 1% contamination rate, so for the most part we think San Diegans are doing really well getting the right things in the green bin,” Cleary said. “Most residents we’ve spoken to when doing the deliveries, most of them were very excited to receive their green bins.”

What if I don’t live in a traditional home?

If you live in an apartment complex or condo where trash service is serviced by a private company, your composting process may look different.

The city also said the residents can request bigger or smaller bins, based on the needs of their homes.