Environmental Law

California Businesses Will Have to Stop Landfilling Organic Waste

By Charles A. White, Senior Advisor, Environment

Pending regulations now being developed by CalRecycle will have a significant impact on persons generating, transporting, recycling and disposing of organic waste in California. These regulations should become final by mid-2018, but due to statutory limitations, will not actually become effective until 2022. However, the time to begin preparing for these new regulations is now. Landfilling of organic waste will no longer be a significant option by 2025. Alternative means of reducing or handling organic waste will have to be developed. The cost of developing organic waste reduction or recycling programs has been informally estimated to exceed $1 billion in the Los Angeles region alone—probably $3 billion statewide. The majority of these costs will likely have to be borne by persons and businesses who generate organic wastes.

In September 2016, Governor Brown signed SB 1383 (Lara, Chapter 395, Statutes of 2016), establishing methane emissions reduction targets in a statewide effort to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP) in various sectors of California’s economy.

As it pertains to CalRecycle and the management of organic waste, SB 1383 establishes targets to achieve a 50 percent reduction, based on 2014 levels, in the statewide disposal of organic waste by 2020—and a 75 percent reduction by 2025. Methane emissions resulting from the decomposition of organic waste in landfills are believed to be a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global climate change. Organic materials—including waste that can be readily prevented, recycled or composted—account for a significant portion of California’s overall waste stream. The law gives CalRecycle the regulatory authority to achieve the organic waste disposal reduction targets and establishes an additional target that not less than 20 percent of currently disposed edible food be recovered for human consumption by 2025.

What waste materials will be targeted by CalRecycle? Here is the agency’s currently proposed definition of organic waste: “Organic Waste” means solid waste containing material originated from living organisms and their metabolic waste products, including, but not limited to, food, green waste, landscape and pruning waste, applicable textiles and carpets, wood, lumber, fiber, manure, biosolids, digestate and sludges.

Not only will services that collect, process and manage organic solid waste be affected, so will generators of organic waste, including, but not limited to, hotels, restaurants, institutions, hospitals, landscaping firms and food processors—to name just a few. However, it is still unclear exactly what standards individual generators, service providers and local jurisdictions will have to meet to remain in compliance with this new mandatory program—and the overall 2025 statewide goal of a 75 percent reduction in organic waste disposal.

CalRecycle is currently planning to establish direct regulatory oversight of local government jurisdictions and organic waste generators that are outside of local jurisdictions—such as schools and state/federal agencies. However, the agency is also planning to exercise “secondary” regulatory oversight of organic waste generators, haulers, waste-facility operators and food-recovery organizations. Local jurisdictions will have primary regulatory oversight over these activities as well.

What does regulatory oversight mean? The draft program outline of this organic waste diversion program calls for reporting, monitoring, surveillance and enforcement to ensure compliance with the overall statewide goal of 75 percent organic waste diversion by 2025. Jurisdictional and individual generator standards have yet to be set.

Organic solid waste generators will be subject to random and complaint-based monitoring by local jurisdictions to ensure compliance with organic waste diversion goals. Large organic waste generators and those that span multiple jurisdictions could be subject to inspection and monitoring by CalRecycle itself. Direct enforcement action by CalRecycle is certainly a possibility. CalRecycle and local jurisdiction enforcement procedures will likely include notices of violation, compliance schedules, cease-and-desist orders and the imposition of monetary fines and penalties.

For more information, go to: http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/Climate/SLCP/. Comments are due to CalRecycle on the current round of informal regulatory concepts by Friday, September 22, 2017.

Manatt is prepared to represent our clients’ interests in this rulemaking process to implement mandatory organic waste reduction and diversion programs in California. Our goal is to ensure that these new standards and procedures under development are fair and reasonable, and do not impose an undue burden. Please let us know if you have questions or concerns about this impending new mandatory program.