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Get ready to compost: San Diego’s new green recycling kicks into high gear with bin

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San Diego’s efforts to comply with a new state law requiring recycling of yard trimmings and food scraps will kick into high gear next month when delivery of 267,000 new green recycling bins begins to homes across the city.

The first wave of bins will be delivered in January and February to homes that get trash picked up on Wednesdays. Homes with Thursday trash pickup will get bins in March and April, and the process will continue until all bins are delivered by August.

Dozens of new trucks for green recycling are arriving in the city this month, and new drivers have been hired, with the help of $2,500 signing bonuses, to operate those trucks when pickups begin next month.

City officials have also launched an aggressive education and outreach campaign to help residents understand their obligations under the new law. Residents must separate out food waste and food-soiled paper products from their trash.

In addition to the new bins, each customer will receive a plastic kitchen pail so that food scraps can be kept under sinks or elsewhere in the kitchen until customers are ready to take that waste outside to their green recycling bin.

The city is scheduled to begin levying fines in January 2024 for non-compliance with the new law, SB 1383.

A smooth transition to green waste recycling, for both residents and city workers, is the city’s primary goal, said Renee Robertson, director of San Diego’s Environmental Services Department.

“We are focused on ensuring everyone has the tools to feel comfortable,” she said. “This is a huge effort, and no matter how well-planned, there will be some hiccups and issues to overcome.”

The state law aims to fight climate change by reducing how much methane gas gets emitted by landfills from decaying organic material like food and yard waste that could instead have been composted for reuse.

The new bins and trucks will handle service at city homes that receive no-fee trash and recycling service. Those are mostly single-family homes, but also include some condos and apartments where individual units have street access.

The new state law also requires green recycling at businesses, apartment complexes and condominiums in San Diego that are served by private haulers instead of city trucks.

The city negotiated new deals with its eight private haulers this fall that require them to begin providing green recycling. Robertson said the haulers will likely have all their new green bins delivered by March — months ahead of the city.

Private haulers are expected to pass the cost of the new green recycling service on to their customers in the form of higher monthly fees.

San Diego officials say adding green recycling has increased the city’s annual costs for no-fee trash and recycling services more than $25 million per year. That doesn’t include another $30 million in one-time costs for new bins and trucks.

The burden of those new costs was expected to fall entirely on city taxpayers until voters approved Measure B on the Nov. 8 ballot. The measure allows the city to start charging monthly fees to homes that have been receiving pickup for no additional fee.

Confusion and chaos are expected to start Jan. 11 when the first bins get delivered, with many dropped off next to parked cars and in other potentially inconvenient spots, Robertson said.

“We hope everyone can understand this one-time inconvenience and help ensure their neighbor gets the right bin,” said Robertson, noting that bins will be delivered on streets but not in alleys.

Residents will receive one of three sizes of green bin — 35-gallon, 65-gallon or 95-gallon.

The 95-gallon bins will go to ordinary single-family homes, and the 35-gallon bins will go to residents living in apartments and condos. The 65-gallon bins will go to people with space constraints or narrow passageways to access a street.

Any customer who wants a different-sized bin than the one they received has 14 days from their delivery date to request a replacement bin on the city’s Get it Done! tipster app or by calling the Environmental Services Department.

While bins will be delivered based on trash pickup day, priority will be given within each group to neighborhoods that scored highest on the city’s climate equity index.

The index, created in 2019, measured which low-income and ethnically diverse city neighborhoods are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Pickups of green recycling will begin one week after new bins and kitchen pails are delivered. Residents will get instructions for what can be placed in the new bins one to two months before delivery.

City officials are sending all customers multi-colored guides with illustrations and instructions in several languages.

They’ve also scheduled four outreach sessions to help low-income residents. They will take place Jan. 21 at the Logan Heights Library, Feb. 4 at the Linda Vista Recreation Center, Feb. 18 at the Skyline Hills Library and March 4 at the San Ysidro Library. Contact the sites for specific times.

Organic waste eligible for the green bins includes fruit, vegetables, eggs, dairy, bread, baked goods, coffee filters, paper napkins, paper bags, parchment paper, grass, leaves, flowers, plant trimmings and non-hazardous wood.

Meat and chicken bones are also eligible for green recycling, but they must be carefully stored in kitchen pails or frozen to avoid smells, said Robertson, noting that city officials are trying to keep things simple for residents at the beginning.

“What really we’re focused on is those early wins for them so they stay participating in the program,” she said.

The city instructional guides also explain how to effectively clean the new green bins and kitchen pails.

The new trucks have a different body type than the city’s existing trash trucks and they have a blue stripe instead of the orange stripe on the existing trucks.

San Diego is also building a new organics recycling plant to compost all of the organic waste the city will be collecting. It will replace the Miramar Greenery at the city’s landfill.

City officials are also still working on a plan to better connect local food banks with restaurants and grocery stores that typically throw away large volumes of food. Robertson said she expected businesses to start slow and then slowly increase what they send to food banks.

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