‘No clue’ on when food waste collection program will start in San Diego, Ocean Beach Town Council is told

San Diego homes will need three bins for city trash collection.
San Diego homes will need three bins for city trash collection — black for trash, blue for recycling and green for food scraps and plant waste.
(The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Trash talk filled the September meeting of the Ocean Beach Town Council — but not what you might think. This was about actual trash, as Meagan Browning, recycling specialist in the San Diego Environmental Services Department, spoke about the city’s efforts to adopt separate collection service for organic waste, including food scraps.

A state organics recycling law known as Senate Bill 1383 was approved in 2016, and Town Council President Corey Bruins asked when the program is targeted to launch in San Diego since the city missed the state’s mandate to start at the beginning of this year.

“Are we talking three months?” Bruins asked. “Six months? Twelve months? Any estimate? No clue?”

The correct answer was E.

“No clue, unfortunately,” Browning replied, shrugging her shoulders.

“It’s a new recycling rule that is a huge change from the way we’ve been doing things,” she said. “Considering the size of San Diego, residential implementation specifically is not going to happen all at once. It’s going to be done in phases.”

The city’s organic waste collection will roll out by community in order to ease into the new system and make adjustments as issues arise, Browning said.

She described the city’s preparations to establish the service, which includes amending the city’s 2007 recycling ordinance, establishing funding, buying new collection trucks, hiring drivers, updating the municipal code as well as franchise agreements with trash haulers, and arranging educational outreach materials.

The purpose of SB 1383 is to reduce methane gas emissions from rotting food and other organic material that is currently sent to landfills by diverting the waste to facilities that create compost and mulch or natural gas from the trash.

Methane, in its 10-year life cycle, is considered 84 times more powerful than carbon in trapping heat in the atmosphere and possibly contributing to warming and climate change. The law aims for a 75 percent reduction in methane emissions from landfills by 2025. About 40 percent of the 900,000 tons of trash sent from San Diego annually to the Miramar landfill is organic waste that needs to be redirected, Browning said.

“I think we’re all very aware in California of the drastic effects [climate change] has on us,” she said. “We see ongoing drought ... hotter temperatures ... fire seasons.”

Under the regulation, all businesses, public agencies, private institutions and residents must have a three-bin waste collection system that includes a black trash bin, a blue recycling bin and a green organics bin for food scraps and food-soiled paper such as plates, napkins and bags, as well as green waste from yards, gardens and indoor plants.

Aside from separating their organic waste, food businesses also are required to donate still-edible food to organizations such as food banks.

Businesses and multi-family housing such as apartments and condominiums are served by private trash haulers, and Browning said tenants should contact their property managers or owners for instructions on when and how to participate in the new collection method.

Every single-family home with city-provided waste collection service will receive a green trash bin for organic waste at no cost, unless it already has one for yard waste.

“The big change that’s going to happen here with the green cart is instead of being serviced every other week, they will be serviced once a week,” Browning said.

In addition to the green bins, homes will receive hard plastic containers in which to keep food waste before putting it in the bins. Browning recommended that the containers be kept in a freezer or refrigerator, with the waste discarded close to the collection date. She also recommended layering the food scraps with green waste or paper to minimize odors and pests such as flies and rodents.

For now, however, “this service hasn’t begun,” she said. “It’s important that you do not put [out] your food scraps if you have a green cart already until you receive that kitchen pail. And you’ll receive a flier in the mail as well. ... That’s kind of your trigger of when you can start.”

The plan was well-received at the meeting, with many in the audience aware that organic waste collection has been widely available in the state and across the country for some time.

“San Diego as a community is lagging far behind our coastal cities in this country, especially on the West Coast,” Bruins said. “Communities like the Bay Area, Seattle and Portland have been composting for a very long time. So as annoying as it might seem to start thinking about ‘I got to store food scraps in my freezer,’ it really is important and crucial to the future of the environment and keeping San Diego beautiful.”

Guest appearances

As befitting election season, a mini-convention of local politicos rolled through the Town Council meeting, with state Assembly members Chris Ward and Tasha Boerner Horvath and San Diego City Council member Jennifer Campbell addressing the audience.

With redistricting moving Ocean Beach out of Ward’s 78th Assembly District, he delivered a farewell speech after serving the community in Sacramento the past two years.

“It’s been really a pleasure to work with you,” Ward told the live audience of about 30 people at Water’s Edge Faith Community church and 30 more online. “My office is still open for business. ... We are still on deck until Nov. 30.”

Bruins told Ward that “we’ve enjoyed hanging out with you the past couple of years and all the work your office has done. The one thing that I’ve learned in my time in this organization is the more local the politics get, the more we feel the effects of that work. So thank you for advocating for us over the years.”

Horvath, a Democrat whose redrawn 77th Assembly District stretches along the coast between Carlsbad and the U.S.-Mexico border and includes Ocean Beach and Point Loma, is now trying to earn the nod from local voters in the Nov. 8 election against Republican Dan Downey.

Horvath, who was a planning commissioner and City Council member in her hometown, Encinitas, before joining the Assembly in 2018, said: “I focus on sustainability, opportunity, equality and equity. Those are things that matter for us.”

Campbell, who is running for reelection against challenger Linda Lukacs in City Council District 2, which includes OB and Point Loma, cataloged her contributions toward ongoing projects in Ocean Beach such as library expansion and pier replacement.

She also described her efforts to secure funding for a new lifeguard station in OB and added that a project to replace the deteriorated Bermuda Avenue stairs and beach access has been funded.

“It’s $2 million that we’re going to get from the city toward fixing that up so we can maintain access to that beach,” Campbell said. “That’s really good stuff.”

Campbell’s appearance was driven partly by her office having no OB representative to give the council member’s report, a regular feature of OBTC meetings. Campbell said Manny Reyes has been hired for the position vacated by Linus Smith and likely will appear at the Town Council’s next meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 26.

After Campbell departed, citing another commitment, Town Council board member Gary Gartner, OBTC’s local government liaison, noted that she will not appear at the group’s candidate forum Monday, Oct. 17, just as she was absent from a similar event in May before the June primary election.

“It’s nice that she shows up. I appreciate it,” Gartner said. “But she’s really not participating when she doesn’t join us for important things for our community like a forum where the community can ask her questions about her vision for the future.”


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