Sept 29 - Governor Signs Historic Organic Waste Legislation (Press Release)

September 29, 2014

Contact: Nick Lapis, Legislative Coordinator

Sacramento—Governor Jerry Brown has signed two landmark CAW-sponsored bills that will drastically cut down on the disposal of organic waste.

  • AB 1594, by Assembly Member Das Williams, will eliminate a loophole in state law that allows yard trimmings, prunings, and other greenwaste that is used as landfill cover to count as being "diverted" from landfills.

This is huge news for California, and is expected to lead to major growth in the state’s composting and anaerobic digestion infrastructure.

"Despite California's robust recycling infrastructure for traditional recyclables, the state continues to landfill organic materials at an alarming rate" said Nick Lapis, Legislative Coordinator for Californians Against Waste. "In fact, food is the most prevalent item in the disposed waste stream and over 40% of all material going to landfills is readily compostable or anaerobically digestible. This is simply unacceptable, and it is irresponsible of us to waste this valuable material."

Even in the best managed landfills, organic waste rots in an oxygen-deprived environment, which leads to the creation of upwards of 7 million tons of greenhouse gases each year, in addition to significant water and air pollution and long-term financial liabilities. Composting and anaerobic digestion not only avoid those impacts, but also build healthy soils through the introduction of organic matter, prevent soil erosion, reduce the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and significantly increase water retention at a time when we need it most.

"Recovering this waste material doesn’t just make environmental sense, it makes economic sense" Lapis added. "CalRecycle has estimated that digesting or composting a significant portion of our organic waste can generate an additional 14,000 jobs by 2020."
"Even though California leads the nation in waste reduction and recycling, we continue to dispose of nearly 13 million tons of food and yard waste each year in landfills, which is one-third of the waste stream," Assembly Member Wesley Chesbro said. "Food waste alone is the single largest component of the waste stream. Landfilled food and other organic materials are a major contributor to climate change."

"California is on the forefront of the farm to fork movement, but the next step is to move the entire state full circle and transition from fork to farm," Chesbro added.

"By getting rid of this loophole, we can get more green waste out of the landfill and into composting facilities," said Assembly Member Das Williams of AB 1594, "creating job growth, reducing the largest man-made source of methane, and manufacturing soil amendments."

Other Responses

"San Francisco believes that composting is truly the highest and best use of organic material," said Debbie Raphael, director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment. "These new laws create a path for California cities to get valuable material out of the landfill and move toward zero waste. I commend all of the stakeholders who made this landmark legislation possible."

"By signing AB 1826 and AB 1594 into law, Governor Brown ensured that all of California shares in the environmental, agricultural, and economic benefits of organics recycling with reduced local emissions of greenhouse gases, new jobs and valuable compost for our farms and vineyards," said Mike Sangiacomo, President & CEO of Recology.

"The passage of AB 1594, together with AB 1826, represents the most important recycling legislation since the enactment of AB 939 in 1989 that made recycling commonplace in California," said Paul Relis Senior Vice President for CR&R Environmental Services. "The new legislation will stimulate a whole new renewable energy industry in our state. This industry will convert much of the seven million tons a year of organic waste going to landfills into renewable natural gas ( some six times cleaner than natural gas), to power thousands of trucks and buses, and renewable electricity to power thousands of homes and businesses. In addition to advancing renewable energy, this legislation will produce a wide range of soil products that will enrich California’s depleting soils while conserving precious water resources."

"It never made much sense to allow jurisdictions to receive recycling credits for using greenwaste - such as yard clippings - as a daily cover at the top of the landfill," said Darby Hoover, Senior Resource Specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "By reclassifying greenwaste daily cover as disposal, not recycling, the State will actually incentivize better, smarter uses of greenwaste. Paired with the new law requiring large commercial waste generators to collect food scraps and yard trimmings for composting or anaerobic digestion, this will further build the momentum for organics recycling in California."

"This is the kind of landmark legislation composters have been hoping for," said Neil Edgar, Executive Director of the California Compost Coalition. "The outcome of these two bills defines a timeline that will lead to the diversion of organic waste from landfills which our industry members can literally take to the bank, enabling the infrastructure development California sorely needs to meet our climate change goals while moving farther down the road to zero waste."

"These landmark policies are a major step towards creating good jobs in recycling and composting. With these policies in place, Los Angeles is better poised to develop the recycling and composting infrastructure necessary to help us reach our Zero Waste goals," said Jackie Cornejo, Project Director for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE).

"These two bills are a big huge step forward for bioenergy in California," said Julia Levin, Executive Director of the Bioenergy Association of California. "Together, they will help California to produce millions of gallons of the lowest carbon fuels in existence and to generate hundreds of megawatts of clean, renewable electricity, instead of throwing organic waste in landfills."

What the Bills Do
AB 1826 targets the lowest hanging fruit of the organic waste stream—the material thrown away by the state’s businesses. Restaurants, super markets, large venues, and food processors generate significant quantities of high quality food waste, and several states have already prohibited the disposal of this material. The bill lays out a measured phase-in of a commercial organics recycling program that will ensure that private sector can build the infrastructure necessary to handle the material.

AB 1826 builds on the success of the mandatory commercial recycling program established by AB 341. Beginning with the largest generators of food waste in 2016 and ramping down to the vast majority of businesses over several years, AB 1826 bill will require businesses to sign up for organics recycling service.

AB 1594 is the culmination of a two-decade long fight over the very meaning of recycling in California. The bill finally overturns a 1996 law that allowed landfilled yard waste to count as being "diverted" from landfills, a practice that served as a major competitor to the true recycling of this material through composting and anaerobic digestion.
Landfills are required to be covered at the end of each working day to reduce odor and vector impacts, and California allows yard trimming to be used for this purpose in lieu of traditional soil cover. By counting this practice towards a local government’s recycling requirements, this policy had created a perverse incentive to landfill green materials instead of recovering the material and returning it to the soil through composting.

When residents take the effort to separate their yard trimmings into a separate container, they expect that material to be composted, but they are likely unaware that that material might be sent to the same landfill as their garbage. This fundamentally weakened the integrity of California’s recycling goals and undercuts true recovery.