Under mandate, Los Angeles rolls out food waste composting

For all the smiles and goodwill they elicited one last morning, the workers in the big green truck could have been selling popsicles and choco tacos. But on this hot Saturday near downtown, the people of Los Angeles showered their love not with the ice cream man, but with the garbage man.

The reason: LA Sanitation & Environment employees delivered compost bins to every home and apartment in the Sunset Junction neighborhood west of Dodgers Stadium. If all goes as planned, expanding this program will allow every Angeleno to conveniently recycle kitchen waste, reducing the burden on landfills and helping curb the production of greenhouse gases that warm the earth.

“I’m really excited,” said Frankie McLafferty, a freelance web producer, who accepted a toaster-sized compost bin on her doorstep. Until recently, she had viewed composting as an “impossible” goal, requiring a large yard and her own equipment. No longer.

“I would rather do something for the environment. Now I feel I can.”

workers outside a house

Sanitary workers Zac Ortiz (left) and Miguel Torres hope to give a homeowner in Los Feliz a home compost bin.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

McLafferty will be one of the early adopters after Los Angeles expanded its curbside composting program to an initial group of 40,000 homes. The program encourages residents to dispose of coffee grounds, egg shells, moldy bread, spoiled fruit, uneaten lasagna and all sorts of other kitchen scraps in the green waste bins, where they already dispose of their yard waste.

All of this may sound like routine to many Bay Area and Orange County residents who have been participating in residential composting programs for years. But because of its massive size, Los Angeles could have a transformative impact on reducing food waste, experts say.

Los Angeles is not advancing this environmental problem alone. It is scrambling to meet a state-mandated deadline to remove food waste from landfills by the end of the year. To make the program available to all of LA’s 750,000 homes, the city must build the capacity to handle a massive organic waste surge that can eventually reach up to 3,000 tons per day.

“We’re trying to return to a future where everyone is more considerate of water and other natural resources,” said Barbara Romero, director of LA Sanitation & Environment. “It requires a change in behavior, but I think everyone wants to be part of the solution. We will do our part, even if we need the public as our partner.”

A group of people stand with a dog

Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, in plaid shirt, visits residents before joining members of LA Sanitation & Environment to distribute compost bins for the home.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

LA lags behind other cities in offering residents an at-home option to redirect food waste. San Francisco has offered green bin disposal for kitchen waste for more than a decade. Many smaller cities have followed suit.

“I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t one bit disappointed that a city that has always positioned itself as an environmentalist is lagging behind in rolling out this program,” said Nick Lapis, director of advocacy for Californians Against Waste . “Especially given the importance of rapidly reducing methane emissions to protect us from the worst effects of climate change.”

Burbank, South Pasadena and Glendale are among Los Angeles County cities that already have curbside food pickup. So are Newport Beach, San Clemente and Dana Point in Orange County.

“I wonder why the city of LA, which is the region’s climate leader, is lagging behind the conservative coastal cities of Orange County,” said Hoiyin Ip, co-chair of the Sierra Club California Zero Waste Committee.

LA cleaning officials said the city took longer to start the program because it simply has a lot more green waste to process than other cities. With 4 million residents, LA’s population is more than four times that of San Francisco. And largely because of its larger shipyards, its estimated green waste production of 3,000 tons per day is six times that of its northern neighbor.

“LA is in a league of its own as a city of 4 million people,” said Alex Helou, associate director of LA Sanitation & Environment. “They don’t have as much yard waste as we do. If you look at the total, we are dealing with significantly more material.”

All of this material means Los Angeles must build additional processing plants to produce compost or use alternative technologies like anaerobic digestion to produce biogas.

A man takes a bucket from a worker at his door

John Splies, left, receives a compost bin from Miguel Torres in Los Feliz.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

For now, LA Sanitation & Environment trucks deliver the contents of green bins to transfer stations, where the yard waste and kitchen scraps are loaded onto 18-wheel trucks that can carry up to 20 tons of green waste. The trucks deliver the organics to Blossom Valley Organics South, a 485-acre composting facility in Lamont, east of the intersection of Interstate 5 and State Route 99.

The facility, operated by waste management company Recology, is 113 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Most of the nutrient-rich end product is sold as a soil improver to small and medium-sized farms in Kern County. Many of the farms grow almonds and table grapes.

Food waste became a concern for environmentalists, lawmakers and state regulators after studies showed landfills are the largest “point source” of methane. Point sources are sources of pollution at a single location, as opposed to multi-point generators such as cars and trucks. Although much less common than carbon dioxide, regulators have focused on methane because it has more than 80 times the global warming potential of CO2.

Then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1383 into law in 2016 to force cities and counties to start programs to remove methane-producing food waste from landfills. Studies have shown that materials that decompose more slowly can reduce emissions, particularly when applied to farmland where plants and trees return carbon to the soil. A follow-up law gives local governments until next year to set up alternative disposal programs.

Los Angeles launched an experimental food waste segregation program in 2008, but only began to seriously scale up efforts in 2018, when 18,000 households in pilot neighborhoods around the city were allowed to throw food waste in their green waste bins. The pilot project was expanded this summer by adding 22,000 apartments in the north center of the city to a total of 40,000 apartments.

A man carries a stack of buckets

Miguel Torres carries a stack of compost bins in Los Feliz.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Sanitary Authorities said they plan to add more processing centers by the fall. They hope some of the alternatives will be closer to the city and reduce the need for fossil-fuel trucks for the more than 200 miles round trip to Lamont (though city officials note that natural gas-powered Recology trucks do). less polluting than standard fuel vehicles).

Angelenos currently disposes of around 1,700 tonnes of organic material per day via their green bins, most of which is garden waste. With the addition of food waste and stricter attention to segregation, LA Sanitation & Environment officials predict the green waste stream could grow to as much as 3,000 tons per day, available for reprocessing into compost or other products.

Homeowners can also compost in their own gardens. Dori Atlantis, an artist in the Sunset Junction area, told city compost bin vendors that she has been making her own compost for decades and uses it to feed her nectarine, lemon and orange trees and a newer passion fruit vine.

“When I moved in, my floor was terrible,” Atlantis said. “It was just tough and just plain bad. It hadn’t been taken care of. Compost brought it back to life.”

Before LA kitchen waste collection rolls out citywide, residents will also have an opportunity to donate food waste to farmers markets. Service is available at markets in Atwater Village (Sunday), Highland Park (Tuesday), Los Angeles State Historic Park near Chinatown (Thursday), and Wellington Square in Mid-City (Sunday). Donations will soon be accepted at additional farmers’ markets in Crenshaw, Playa Vista, Central Avenue and Pershing Square.

The vast majority of Sunset Junction residents welcomed LA’s sanitation workers with open arms earlier this month. Tech worker Abi Block told workers that her search for a composting solution helped her reconnect with a New York City acquaintance; The two have since become fast friends.

“It feels good to do something positive,” said Bock. “And now it helps that the city is helping you with that. It will make it more part of the routine.”

A man carries buckets past houses

Sanitary worker Miguel Torres transports compost bins around the home and delivers them to homeowners in Los Feliz.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Less than 2% of households offered the green-lid recycling bins declined, the city said.

On a recent weekend, just one home in Sunset Junction turned away sanitation workers carrying a bucket. “We’re fine,” a young man called from his porch.

Asked a few minutes later why they hadn’t accepted a compost bin, the man’s companion tearfully explained, “We were just about to part ways.”

But she was quick to add, “I’m from San Francisco. I really love composting.”

https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2022-08-18/los-angeles-food-waste-composting Under mandate, Los Angeles rolls out food waste composting

Alley Einstein

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