["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published October 18, 2021] © 2021
It's going to be a whole new trash world on January 1 when California residents will be required to recycle food waste. Yup, all those chicken bones, shrimp tails, coffee grounds, moldy lunch meat, vegetable peelings, and greasy fast-food papers. Even those scrambled eggs your picky toddler wouldn't eat.
Concept-wise, Senate Bill 1383, the legislation behind this change, is a fantastically good idea. Currently, almost 41% of the city's waste composition is methane-producing organic material, apparently a far bigger contribution to global warming than carbon dioxide.
Increasing the win, this organic waste could be converted to fertilizer, compressed natural gas for vehicles, or uses not yet imagined.
As with all such drastic changes, even ones that are well-intentioned, I anticipate some serious problems in the transition.
A major issue, of course, will be compliance.
Persons or businesses failing to comply could be slapped with "fines." By whom? And how? As with the Water Police a few years ago (asking residents to rat out their neighbors for running sprinklers on other than their designated days or times), I think this one is problematical. Will County Food Waste vigilantes be wandering around on trash day sniffing Hefty bags for whiffs of pizza crusts? Or worse, slicing the bags open? Will public shaming with the offending food waste - presumably left on the bin lid along with a citation - become a thing?
Apparently, part of this plan is that all the people who don't yet have city-issued green waste bins (that would be my area) will be issued them. The organic food waste would go in there - no plastic bags - along with the yard waste.
Part of what worries me is that those city-issued bins of all colors (black for trash, blue for recyclables, green for greenery) are no match for city trash trucks. I'm on my fourth black at this point and it didn't take them two pick-ups to split the lid. The trash trucks literally hurl those things to the ground. On my street, you'd be hard put to find a black bin that isn't duct-taped together. I have this fantasy that the trash guys entertain themselves by seeing who can splinter the most bins in a given trash day. ("Good one, George! You got the wheels totally off that one!")
I'm trying to even imagine the rat problem if we have food waste sitting in fractured green bins. Rats can squish themselves into a half-inch high space. (I know of what I speak.) They wouldn't even have to try if half the lid is gone. I can feel the local rodentials celebrating already.
The other issue that I don't think the state has quite worked out is what do do with all that food waste between consumption and trash pickup, even if those currently-picked-up twice-a-week greenery bins are picked up once a week. Remember, no plastic bags. Warm climate. A little research found that it will be recommended that residents wrap their food waste in newspapers or paper grocery bags and keep it in their refrigerator or freezer until trash day. No offense, but this suggestion was clearly made by a guy. (In point of fact, it was.)
The idea of keeping a paper grocery bag in my fridge full of food waste frankly makes me gag. Your best hope is that your teenager will eat it. They're fortunately pretty non-discriminating.
It would especially make me gag when I pulled the bag out of the fridge on trash day and the bottom fell out because all of that food waste was wet. It is for this reason that the plastic bag industry has been so successful.
I have read that the city may help this somewhat by issuing countertop food containers to put waste in between trash pickups. The picture I saw of it means I'd have to dispense with my blender and my mini-Cuisinart on my limited counter space. Definitely sounds better than the fridge solution but even then, how do its aromatic contents get from there to the green bin?
I actually have first-hand experience with food waste. When my older son Rory was in fifth grade, he accidentally threw out his $200 dental appliance with his lunch bag. As a divorced working mom living paycheck to paycheck, I most definitely could not afford a new one. I took off an afternoon from work, and with the school's permission, worked my way through the school's dumpster, opening bag after bag of the detritus of that day's lunch. Let me tell you, I can attest that a lot of food is wasted in this country. None of the kids ate the fruit. Most didn't eat the bread crusts. And by the way, I did find the dental appliance. But I have never recovered from the experience.
Come 2022, there is going to have to be a crash course for everyone on What Goes In What Bin. Because as of January 1, there can be no food in the blue or black bins; no glass or plastic in the green or black; no dog poop, diapers or plastic bags in green or blue.
There will be a quiz.