Contract workers assemble and deliver food waste bins in the Sherman Heights neighborhood on Jan. 11, 2023.
Contract workers assemble and deliver food waste bins in the Sherman Heights neighborhood on Jan. 11, 2023. / Photo by Kristian Carreon for Voice of San Diego

It’s tall, green and belongs alongside all your other waste bins – and it’s coming to San Diegans beginning this week. 

San Diegans will soon be expected to fill their new green bins with food and plant scraps.

A state law aimed at reducing planet-warming gasses requires this. If Californians don’t separate their food waste from regular garbage and recycling, state law requires cities to start imposing penalties to force their hand. 

San Diego’s director of environmental services, Renee Robertson, said the city wouldn’t begin enforcement for a few years. Between then and now the city is in “education-first” mode. But the thousands of single-family homes and small multifamily buildings receiving no-cost trash pick-up from the city right now will get free green bins beginning Wednesday.

Norall Moore, who has lived in the Sherman Heights neighborhood since 1964, wheels in a new food waste bin into her front yard on Jan. 11, 2023. / Photo by Kristian Carreon for Voice of San Diego

The over 60,000 homes that have trash day on Wednesdays will get their bins first, Robertson said. Once that swath of ZIP codes is complete, which could take a few months, the city will move to Thursday and eventually Friday. 

The city will start collecting food waste weekly once the home receives its bin. If the bin is too big or too small, residents can request a new one for free from the city within two weeks by calling the Environmental Services Department’s customer service line.

It’ll be a slow roll-out and it will likely be well into the summer before the city gives everyone it serves a new green bin and kitchen pail. The pail is intended to sit on a countertop, under the sink or in the freezer so residents can separate their food waste from the start. Residents are then expected to toss that pail a few times per week into the larger, rolling green bin on the curb or in the alleyway.

The city will collect that food waste once per week to cut down on any negative side-effects of sitting food waste, known as the “ick” factor in solid waste – rotting, smells, insects, etc.

Kasandra Lopez speaks to Matthew Cleary, assistant director of the city’s environmental services department, about the new food waste bins on Jan. 11, 2023. / Photo by Kristian Carreon for Voice of San Diego

The best way to prevent those things is by layering food waste with green waste, like grass clippings or tree trimmings. Robertson recommends keeping daily food waste in the freezer and dumping the frozen contents into the green bin. Or, wrap food waste, especially meats and bones, in paper – which is usually compostable.

Robertson herself said she plans to use two kitchen pails: One underneath the sink for less-stinky coffee grounds and another in the freezer with everything else. 

As the city rolls out these new bins and pails, city employees will tag along to inform residents about the new expectations on them.

The rollout first targets neighborhoods that score lowest on the city’s Climate Equity Index, a tool the Sustainability Department crafted to identify older and poorer communities that are more vulnerable and exposed to problems triggered by a warming planet, like extreme heat and flooding.

“It shows us communities that are historically underserved to give them that service first,” Robertson said. 

Garbage and recycle bins line a hill in the Sherman Heights neighborhood on Jan. 11, 2023. / Photo by Kristian Carreon for Voice of San Diego

Once the city collects residents’ food waste, it will take it to an existing composting facility at Miramar Landfill. Workers first pick trash out of the food waste and then mix it with mulch and lay it on the ground in long, plastic-capped piles over pipes that pump air into the waste to dry it. Eventually that food waste turns into rich, organic plant food the city could give away or sell. 

Food represents about 20 percent of what’s thrown away. Methane is a greenhouse gas generated by bacteria that decomposes food waste in oxygen-free environments like inside a landfill where waste is piled and sealed, often with plastic coating to protect groundwater from contamination. Landfills in San Diego, and across California, are leaking methane and racking-up thousands of dollars in fines. San Diego intends to prevent 90 percent of its landfill methane from reaching the atmosphere by 2035 under its latest Climate Action Plan. 

“When we talk about engaging with climate change, this really gives people that sense of ownership,” Robertson said. 

The state law forcing the city to roll out the new service, SB 1383, requires cities to eliminate food from the waste stream. Most of that work requires residents, restaurants and grocery stores alike from preventing the creation of food waste in the first place.

San Diegans are paying to waste food, with double-digit percent increase in waste collection fees depending on where they live. State law also requires private waste haulers like Republic Services to divert food waste from the landfill.

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5 Comments

  1. We got our compost container for a 12 unit building from Republic Services at the end of October. Bill is $114 a month for weekly pickups plus the “fuel recovery” charge. As of today, Republic has picked up the compost twice! This is virtue signaling at it’s very best. Perhaps Renee can tell us how a second truck every week is reducing greenhouses gas.

    1. But Dennis, you will soon be receiving your virtue signal merit badge ( made of fossil fuel produced plastic , just like your recycle bins ) which is , y’know …Priceless!

  2. This is article overlooks several factors. The green bins have been available for several years for yard waste. I have two green bins. They were available free for pickup and a charge for delivery. The city’s website states that if residents have green bins they will be informed when they may begin also using them for food waste but not until then. Yard waste has been picked up bi-weekly so it will be a change if the green bins waste will start being picked up weekly.

  3. We need to stop collecting the black bins once a week once the green bins are rolled out, I only put my black bin out every other week as it is but once this is rolled out it doesn’t need picking up as much.

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