Costa Mesa sorts through options for reducing, recycling organic waste by 2022 deadline

The city of Costa Mesa is considering a new organic waste recycling program.
Costa Mesa City Council members Tuesday considered how to bring the city into compliance with a state law that tasks cities with reducing organic waste by at least 75% by a 2025 benchmark.
(File Photo)

Costa Mesa officials are sorting through years of state legislation that says cities must create organic waste and unwanted food recycling programs, in an effort to reduce local landfill waste and avoid hefty penalties for non-compliance.

Council members considered in a study session Tuesday how they might meet the mandates of Senate Bill 1383, which requires California to reduce its organic waste by 75% — the equivalent of about 20 million tons per year — by 2025. The law also sets a goal for increasing the recovery of unused food by 20%.

The bill incorporates previous state regulations, which mandated commercial recycling and similar programs for properties whose organic waste exceeded certain capacities. But SB 1383 goes a step further, requiring cities to create residential recycling programs for organic waste, including food, paper, landscaping material and untreated lumber.

Cities must also set up an edible food recovery program, annually procure a prescribed amount of recycled organic waste products (mulch, compost and renewable natural gas, for example) and establish a framework for monitoring and enforcing local compliance. The deadline for bringing everything online is Jan. 1, 2022.

“That is the date when single family residences, multifamily residences and all commercial properties with 2 cubic yards per week of organic waste are required to have organic waste recycling programs in place,” San Juan Capistrano-based consultant Mike Balliet said.

“None of this is easy,” he continued. “We have a very short time, from after these regulations were approved to actually have the programs in place.”

Failure to comply could subject the city to fines of up to $10,000 per day, despite intimations from the state a two-year, “non-adversarial” grace period may be observed, Balliet told council members.

Costa Mesa currently uses a non-exclusive franchise system of 11 haulers to manage trash as well as recycling services for commercial properties and multifamily properties of five or more units, according to staff reports.

Balliet suggested city officials lean into their contracts with waste haulers and expand the scope of services to cover the mandates outlined in SB 1383.

“The suggested path is to look at having more stringent agreement terms and also to make your trash haulers help shoulder some of that cost burden and the regulatory burden of monitoring activities,” he said.

The city’s Public Services Department is now considering developing a new non-exclusive franchise agreement that would incorporate the mandate’s requirements and set rates for organic waste recycling. Balliet said costs were still unknown but placed a ballpark range at around $100,000 to $300,000.

Public services staff anticipated they could draft a new agreement by February, which could take effect as soon as April, and develop enforcement and procurement ordinances this spring. Under the timeline, customers would be notified in late summer, with a bulk of compliant service beginning in September.

Councilman Don Harper said while he agreed the city needed to comply, he emphasized the importance of bringing the public on board.

“I just don’t think there’s enough out there that compels us to do what we should be doing,” Harper said. “I don’t think residents in general understand that we’re going to end up with this additional cost if we don’t just get there.”

Councilwoman Arlis Reynolds recalled touring an Orange County landfill and being struck by the enormity of waste she saw.

“The mandated targets are really aggressive,” she said. “[But] it is remarkable to see how much trash we do produce, so it’s an aggressive target but absolutely necessary.”

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