Wishful Composting Cannot Follow Wishful Recycling
With a shifting schedule between purple and red tiers, along with shutdowns due to COVID-19, take-out food orders rapidly expanded to save the restaurants that have adapted to this dynamic and constrained market. Single-use packaging has significantly increased with waste migration from the commercial to the residential sector. Emerging commercial programs use innovative technology to remove packaging from food waste, but most residential-driven composting programs are wary of this onslaught of packaging that could compromise their organic certification. The lowering of the AB 1826 threshold to 2 cubic yards per week of MSW, effective January 1, 2021, is also adding to the supply of commercial food waste packaging. CalRecycle determined that due progress had not been achieved toward the 50% organics diversion mandate by 2020 (based on the 2018 data) and lowered the threshold with a good faith phase-in program development.
The China Sword exposed many dirty lies of the plastic industry, laying bare the inability of California to permit domestic re-manufacturing capacity. Recycling markets have been in disarray, while closing redemption centers, precipitated a decline from a 50% statewide recycling rate in 2012 to 37% in 2019, which may drop to 33% in 2020. Wishful recycling continues to plague programs, as confusion over labeling and what is recyclable and compostable is exacerbated. SB 1335 regulations were adopted in December 2020, requiring food service operations located in a state-owned facility or acting as a concessionaire on state-owned property, or under contract to provide food service to a state agency to dispense prepared food using food service packaging that is reusable, recyclable, or compostable. CalRecycle will publish a list of approved food service packaging on its website within 90 days of the regulations being adopted. This will establish a framework for private operations and help set the table for AB 1201 (Ting) this year regarding compostables.
The development of AB 1201 (Ting) over the last two years is an offshoot of the proposed legislation, SB 54/ AB 1080, and of the Recycling Commission Report Policy #19, filed in December 2020. The Recycling Commission determined that it was a Legislative Priority to establish a market-wide standard for compostables going to composting and anaerobic digestion in California, as it is necessary for the function, vitality, integrity, and resilience of the organic waste management system, organic waste processing facilities, and the achievement of environmental objectives that protect public health, safety, and the environment.
The China Sword is sucking the recycling out of the room and diverting resources to pay for the increased costs of processing the blue bin, as the cost of the organics bin is significantly increasing to implement SB 1383. With millions of tons of new food waste and green waste needing to be diverted, the composting industry is also facing how to deal with the more problematic compostable packaging, food-soiled paper, and bio-plastics which will be foisted on the composting industry; we must ensure that our organic labeling is not compromised and that bulk compost is safe from the side effects of packaging. Compost has regional markets for current tons and will soon have SB 1383 local government procurement requirements for millions of new tons. A ton of organic waste can produce 0.58 tons of compost and can be used on parklands and vast agricultural fields. Over 100,000 acres of parklands and one million acres of irrigated cropland await compost applications to reduce water use and increase organic matter to create healthy soils.
The composting industry is not the panacea to accommodate the single-minded greenwashing attempts of the single-use packaging industry or to be dumped on instead of dumping on China. The composting industry does not need to wish upon a dream or upon markets, as we are mature and have vast sustainable agriculture markets here in California. We do wish upon air permits and pricing as we accommodate food waste and will not accept the wishful recycling of single-use food serviceware.