Costa Mesa Sanitary District directors voted unanimously Thursday to begin an environmental review of a proposed organic recycling program.
The program, if implemented, would come at the expense of what many Costa Mesans have enjoyed for years: the relative ease of putting all their trash in one bin and not sorting it.
Under the six-year contract with CR&R; Environmental Services, the district would provide all households with a 64-gallon bin for collecting organics, such as food scraps and plant material. A second bin would be provided for trash and recyclables.
Both would be picked up on the same day but by different trucks.
The organics would end up at an under-construction CR&R; anaerobic waste facility in Perris, which would convert the materials into renewable natural gas.
General Manager Scott Carroll said Thursday that the program would cost $504,679 a year to implement — up from the $487,416 a year listed on a staff report.
How the program would affect rates isn't yet clear, though a roughly $4-million district fund may not only help start things up but also keep rates stable for the next five years, district officials said.
After that, households could see an increase in their rates, unless the board decides to implement small increases over the next several years to avoid a spike.
Carroll said the program is designed to produce zero waste and reduce what's sent to landfills in accordance with a state law enacted in 2011.
"We want to be on the front line when those new regulations come into effect," Carroll said. "We want to be proactive rather than reactive."
Sanitary District President James Ferryman said, "The rules change. We gotta do something, and let's do the right thing."
District engineer Robin Hamers said the environmental review — done in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act — would begin immediately. He plans to soon consult with Costa Mesa officials.
"I think it would be very important for us to be the first ... in anaerobic digestion," Hamers said.
The review, including a 30-day public notice period, could take up to 60 days.
Representatives from CR&R;, which made a presentation about the anaerobic process during Thursday's meeting, described it as expensive yet innovative and environmentally friendly in its reduction of greenhouse gases.
They said their Perris facility may open by October and, after testing, be usable by January 2015.
Several district directors suggested more outreach about the organic program, which, despite being discussed within the past few months by the board, didn't garner much public attention until recently.
After media attention this week about the program and the possibility of Costa Mesa losing its one-bin system, Director Mike Scheafer said he received a few calls from "disgruntled" residents.
CR&R;'s proposal, however, is "gonna cost a little more to do the right thing," he said. "This is the right thing."
And because of the state mandate on reducing waste, the district doesn't "have a choice in this somewhere down the line," Scheafer said.
Carroll said a 2012 district survey of 1,000 residents suggested that about 81% of respondents were supportive of reducing landfill waste. About 67% said they preferred only a single container, Carroll added, though 42% said they were willing to pay more for trash service if it reduced the amount of waste delivered to the landfill.
Carroll said the district in 2010 began discussing its zero-waste programs and has had some 15 public meetings about the topic since then.
A community meeting about the organics program is scheduled to take place before the district's final vote on the matter.