The California garbage business changed permanently in 1990 when customers were required to sort their waste into separate carts.
Starting Jan. 1, 2022, with the rollout of new state regulations involving organic waste, it’s changing again.
As part of SB 1383, local jurisdictions will have to provide organic waste collection service to all residents and businesses. In the upper Napa Valley, the task of implementing a more robust organics diversion program will fall to Upper Valley Disposal Service (UVDS), which is under a long-term franchise agreement to handle waste management.
In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, jurisdictions must reduce the amount of organic waste that ends up in landfills by 75% by 2025. “Organic waste” includes food scraps, grass, wood, paper, and even organic textiles and carpets.
“This is going to be another dramatic change in the industry,” said General Manager Bryce Howard.
UVDS is fortunate to be ahead of the curve, already having a robust composting program that sells compost to local landscaping companies and vineyards, said Chief Operating Officer Christy Pestoni.
“Only recently were we able to add food scraps to our green waste program,” Pestoni said. “With that, we’re going to roll out our food scrap program to our residential customers on July 1.”
Customers will still have three carts: brown (gradually transitioning to gray or black) for trash, blue for recyclables, and green for organics.
However, customers will also receive a small food scrap bin to tuck under their sinks. Those scraps should be dumped into the green cart for pickup.
The law will require periodic audits of each garbage route, for all customer types. That means flipping lids and making sure there are no organics in the brown carts, plastic bags in the green carts, or trash in the blue carts.
If there’s any contamination, customers will be tagged and reminded to clean up their act. Non-compliant jurisdictions and customers could face fines starting in 2024, but Napa County has asked for that date to be extended by at least a year.
“For the first two years, we’re just focusing on education,” Pestoni said.
On top of the 75% organic waste reduction, jurisdictions must recover 20% of edible food that would otherwise end up in the landfill and use it to feed the hungry. UVDS’ role in reaching that goal will be primarily educational.
Members of the UVDS management team who’ve joined the company in the last few years after extensive experience in the industry say they’re ready to tackle the challenge posed by SB 1383.
“We’ve all worked in other places and seen other best practices,” said Chief Financial Officer Ray Holmes, who spent about 20 years with Waste Management Inc. and Marin Sanitary Service. “The type of reporting required by SB 1383 is going to require a whole new level of sophistication in our internal systems.”
“We also have employees who’ve been here more than 20 years,” added Customer Service Manager Kim Scheibly, formerly of Marin Sanitary Service. “They’re dedicated, hard workers who want to do right by the customer.”
“Our company is well-positioned because we own and operate the assets we need,” Howard said, referring to composting facilities at UVDS’ Whitehall Lane facility, Clover Flat Landfill, and Quackenbush in Lake County. “We’ve been composting for a long time, so this is not new to us.”
UVDS’ permits allow up to 15,000 tons of composting per year at Clover Flat and 34,000 tons at Whitehall Lane, but Whitehall Lane currently operates at about half that number.
Under the new residential organic waste program, an estimated 200 tons of residential food scraps will be composted annually at Whitehall Lane along with 6,000 tons of green waste. The amount of grape pomace fluctuates from year to year; it was down by 30% to 12,000 tons last year due to the smoke taint from the fires.
As part of a deal with neighbors who’ve complained of excessive odors at the Whitehall Lane facility, UVDS agreed to process commercial food waste at Clover Flat instead.
A $1.2 million grant from CalRecycle that would have paid for a blending barn to process commercial food waste at Whitehall Lane will instead go toward a system to reduce odors from composting.
“All of the piles will be in an aerated piece of concrete being composted with electronic probes telling us what’s happening inside,” Pestoni said. “Finished compost will be kept moist, and the moisture will keep odors from traveling up as the air is pushing through the pile during the decomposition process.”
The new system, which is similar to a much larger one operated by Napa Sanitation District, will cost $1.6 million and enable round-the-clock, real-time monitoring. The technology is required by UVDS’ air quality permit.
The compost produced at Whitehall Lane, prized by landscapers for its dark color and water retention qualities, will soon be more accessible to residents.
“We want people to feel like they’re putting something in their green cart and they’re actually getting a bag of compost back,” Pestoni said. “Everyone should feel like they’re participating, so they’re not just watching their green waste go away and never come back.”
You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or firstname.lastname@example.org.