Local Governments Comments To Draft AB 1383 Regulations

By Arthur R. Boone, Center for Recycling Research (CRR), 07/20/18

PREFACE: Our editor has asked for some prefatory remarks to my long July memo to CalRecycle on their plans enforcing for SB 1383 (short-lived climate pollutants: methane emissions: dairy and livestock: organic waste: landfills, enforcement). I think we need to go back to AB939 as the foundational document for public policy on waste reduction and recycling and acknowledge that law’s shortcomings. The state had lofty goals and fines to get local programs moving, but not really too much insight or direction for those programs. The effect of AB 939 was significant in moving curbside programs in 1990 from 30 communities to over 400 by 1995, but, in truth, the measurable impact of all these programs has been modest. California has a much garbage buried yearly now as it did 25 years ago; hardly a claim to fame. Granted, a considerable population growth in that time but if 42 million tons in 1989 was outrageous, the same amount in 2015 should be no less outrageous

So the recent state laws on WR&R have taken a different tack. No more admonitions and lofty goals, now we want measurable programs with measurable results. The public responses to the draft regs discussed below are sometimes commended, but elsewhere the locals like things the way they are and are expecting Sacramento will bend to their will. Nit-picking requirements are never fun to work under, but the emphasis on programs inputs and not on measurable success in WR&R has pushed (or at least allowed) the state to take a new approach, which is not comfortable to locals who’ve had their own way for a long time. Glad to answer questions and to defend my writings. — ARB

In the last several years the legislature has taken notice that the best intentions of its 1989 act, AB 939, have not been met by programs sponsored by local governments that have merely kept the volume of materials disposed of as solid wastes at a standstill, merely keeping pace despite the ever-growing population of our state. In 1989, 42 million tons of materials were landfilled or incinerated; in 2014, 25 years later, the state had the same amount of garbage to be buried.

939 was a very unspecific law where the state merely set goals for local governments’ program achievements but gave little specific direction, not unreasonable with the novelty of diverting materials for recovery in a time without a national war or serious materials shortages. Local governments responded to the state’s challenge with a number of voluntary (some mandatory) programs and made major attempts to redirect the flow of unwanted materials from landfills to beneficial uses in “the stream of commerce.” While somewhat successful on a program-level basis, in looking now at the big picture, (42 million tons garbage then, 42 million tons now), clearly more efforts have been needed.

I believe that the Legislature, in enacting AB 341 in 2011, AB 1828 in 2014 and AB 1383 in 2016, has new goals for the state that will create programs biting more deeply into the volumes of waste. The fact that the CalRecycle has chosen a detailed reporting system to monitor compliance with these new state directives is certainly inconvenient for those answering all the questions but must be seen as a state agency frustrated by the lack of measurable achievement by local governments and its own duty to the legislature to assist local governments to now comply with these new strictures.

In reviewing the comments of earlier commentators, mostly from local governments, I would make the following comments.

  1. LA San, page 3, Section 17409.5.6. Source Separated Organic Waste Handling, objects to the requirement in the draft regs that source separated organics and mixed waste organics be kept separate in processing and reporting.

CRR Comment: I support the regulations as they stand. Mixed waste processing (MxWP) has become a panacea for waste haulers who do not wish to disturb the disposal patterns of their customers; “leave it to us,” they say. To my knowledge there have been no peer-reviewed studies of MxWP that would look at two questions:

1) What percentage of the organic materials arriving for separation are in fact removed and accepted at a licensed compost yard?

2) What is the level of contamination in the separated organic materials? Here we have 140 million dead trees standing and falling in our state’s forests that are not suitable for paper making and we are taking all the scrap paper in a mixed load and delivering it to a compost yard; that doesn’t make sense to me. Sources known to me recount that as little as 30% of the organics presented for separation in a mixed waste processing facility in fact end up at a compost yard.

In June, 2015, Gershman, Brickner & Bratton, Inc. prepared a report, THE EVOLUTION OF MIXED WASTE PROCESSING FACILITIES: 1970-TODAY for the American Chemistry Council [55 pages] which states, “legitimate questions remain regarding recovery rates, quality and contamination of recovered materials, and the commercial readiness of the technologies” p.1.

All the European studies have found that source-separated organics deliver the most and the best organics for composting and the EU has recently (November 2017) ordered that, effective 2024, all organics collected for treatment and beneficial use throughout the EU (over 500 million people) will be source-separated. No more mixed waste processing in Europe. Details available.

  1. LA San, at Loadchecking at In-Vessel Digestion Facilities, pp. 4-5, objects to the monitoring of slurried organics delivered to WWTPs for ingestion into wet process AD facilities.

CRR Comment: I disagree. I have seen loads of such materials delivered to a WWTP that are already bubbling up, decomposing before they arrive to be ingested. The major reason that landfills are no longer trusted to capture methane from deposited solid waste decaying in an anaerobic environment is because science proved in the decade ending in 2010 that much of the methane produced in landfills escaped to the air before gas capture systems were installed. If the same thing happens at a WWTP, we see no gain in this practice.

  1. Los Angeles County, page 2 of its 19-page memo, objects to the heavy burden that the state is laying upon it.

CRR Comment: The numbers cited above tell a sad story; nobody wins the race by treading water. Perhaps the legislature sees the need, after almost 30 years, to try some new techniques to reduce landfilling in the state. Anyone looking at the chart on page 10 of the August 2017 report from CalRecycles entitled STATE OF DISPOSAL AND RECYCLING IN CALIFORNIA/ 2017 UPDATE can see that the state has made no progress in increasing recycling since 2010 and certainly some new approaches need to be tried, admittedly at the expense of the county and its cities. It costs more to keep a person in a hospital for a day than to bury them but we don’t rush to do that; similarly, keeping used resources in the stream of commerce, a matter which the Chinese rush to acquire our valued discards resolved for 20 years but is no more, is more valuable than lower garbage rates or more landfilling.

  1. Los Angeles County, page 8 of its 19-page memo, that “Considering there is already a shortfall in organic waste capacity statewide,…”

CRR Comment: I think this is an inaccurate statement. The SF Bay area of nine counties has had adequate composting facilities available to its communities because the local governments there have invested in expanding green cart collections program to include food debris and soiled papers and the composting service providers have increased their facilities to accommodate the increasing volumes of materials. In the Bay area, several million tons of organic materials each year are diverted from landfill disposal (exact numbers are not available); Los Angeles County has only itself to blame for the absence of capacity there. At the last public hearing at D3R, I invited Mr. Mohajer to tour our Bay Area facilities with me; he has declined the invitation.

  1. Los Angeles County, page 10, bottom, claims that biomass conversion to create syngas as a vehicle fuel is a suitable end destination of unspecified organics.

CRR Comment: The state is currently debating the fate of 130 million dead and dying trees in its forests. I must comment that, if by biomass conversion the County means the burning of wood chips, it is now well established by science that the emissions of such burn plants varies and that a plant without adequate emissions controls is as bad as a coal-fired power plant. There are many other end markets for clean wood discards that need to be explored before adding fuel to existing power plants or modifying older plants to be less “dirty.” If the billion dollars to be spent on clean green power for vehicles is any indication, all burning of carbonaceous products is passé.

  1. City of San Jose, Page 2, middle “CalRecycle should add mulch to the list of allowable recovered organic waste products.”

CRR Comment: This is an excellent suggestion; currently there is no tracking of mulch products and they are much cheaper to produce than compost and are very attractive materials for a wide range of agricultural users. Mulch can be made and screened from mixed organics loads and the haulers can make this a DIY project and avoid compost facility fees.

  1. City of San Jose, page 2, bottom. Item #2. “Do landscape companies fall under self-haul generators who must self-haul to be a composting facility?

CRR Comment: As long as anyone can say, landscape companies have been hauling vegetative materials from diverse generators’ properties for conversion to beneficial uses like mulch and compost. As a small businessman for the last 30 years, I strongly oppose any attempt of state or local governments to see this work as requiring solid waste management controls. I would also suggest that if the local ensconced hauler fails or refuses to offer source-separated organics [SSO] collections at a reasonable price, it should do as Oakland did about the year 2000 when it allowed others than its franchised hauler to collect SSOs.

  1. City of Sunnyvale, pages 3 and 4, “We will gain the highest levels of diversion by combining source-separation PLUS post-collection sorting from the black carts… We ask that CalRecycle revise the regulations to allow diversion measurement of the entire system, not just individual cart streams or facilities.

CRR Comment: Generally, the same concerns as with #1. Looking at all of the public agencies with opinions on mixed waste processing as the best method to recover organics, the City of Sunnyvale would be one of the best informed because for many years that was its prime method to gather organics from residential materials for composting. It has recently implemented a program to collect SSOs as a feedstock for an animal feed operation located in Santa Clara.

# # #