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San Diego finished handing out green composting bins. How have they done?

SAN DIEGO — A few weeks after the city crews completed their delivery of the new green bins, the City of San Diego has reported more numbers about the success of the program in diverting organic waste from the landfill.

Last month, the city saw a 5,500-ton increase in organic waste collection through the green bins compared to September 2022. This corresponds with a reduction of waste in the normal non-recycling bins by 4,400 tons between the two months, according to city officials.

Since January, more than 53,000 tons of organic waste has been collected by Environmental Services Department (ESD) crews since the program started its rollout of over 200,000 bins to homes through the city in January.

“Recycling organic waste is a key part of achieving our climate action goals,” Mayor Todd Gloria said in a release. “I know changing habits can be hard, but separating your organics keeps waste out of our landfills and reduces harmful emissions created by rotting waste.”

The distribution of green bins to San Diego residents was part of the city’s efforts to comply with a 2016 law, Senate Bill 1383, that aimed to reduce short-lived climate pollutants through a swath of strategies for the state’s Air Resources Board.

One of those strategies was a requirement for statewide disposal of organic waste to be cut by 75% by 2025, in part through locally run collection services for residents and businesses.

The green bins in San Diego also help the city move closer towards its Climate Action Plan and Zero Waste goals. By 2035, city officials are aiming to have roughly 90% of all waste diverted from the landfill, according to the Zero Waste Plan.

Food scraps and other compostable materials account for most of the garbage received by landfills across the country, contributing to harmful emissions, pollution and other health hazards.

U.S. landfills and trash incinerators receive about 167 million tons of garbage every year, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. About 21% of that is food scraps alone, while 15% is paper or paperboard, 8% is yard trimmings and another 8% is wood waste.

“Recycling organic waste is a simple, yet impactful step each of us can take to fight climate change,” City Councilmember Joe LaCava, chair of the Environment Committee, said in a release. “San Diegans now have the tools to be part of the solution.”  

Residents with a green bin can place mixed materials in it for recycling, including food scraps, yard trimmings, and food-soiled paper or paper products. However, glass and metals, plastic bags, containers, “biodegradable” plastic, pet waste, diapers, and dirt cannot go in this bin.

A list of what can and cannot be put into the green bins can be found here. Although, city officials say a good rule of thumb to use when sorting waste is “if it grows, it goes” in the green bin.

The materials in the green bin are collected by garbage crews on more than 200 routes weekly and disposed of in city-run composting facilities. By the end of the year, the city is projecting the total amount of organic waste collected by ESD crews to hit roughly 70,000 tons.

For more on how to use your green bin, ESD will be hosting an in-person workshop, “How to Love Your New Green Bin,” on Oct. 28 from 11 a.m. to noon at the Pacific Beach/Taylor Library. Information about the workshop can be found on the city’s website.

Online guides about how to use the green bins are also available on the City of San Diego’s recycling website. Multiple languages are available, including English, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese.

“Organic waste recycling represents a major shift in behavior,” said ESD Director Renee Robertson. “But San Diegans are finding out that putting things like eggshells, banana peels and coffee grounds in a green bin can be as easy as tossing aluminum cans, cardboard and plastic bottles in a blue bin.” 

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