Starting January 1, 2022, the restrictions outlined in state Senate SB 1383 will take effect, and California residents will not be allowed to throw their food scraps in the garbage. The regulations are part of a statewide effort to reduce short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP), increasing the application of compost and lowering the demand for landfill capacity.
What are SLCPs?
SLCPs are pollutants that have a short lifetime and a high capacity to warm the atmosphere. The SLCPs that contribute most to the man-made global greenhouse effect after carbon dioxide (CO2) are:
- Black carbon
- Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
- Tropospheric Ozone
What is Methane?
Methane is a hydrocarbon that is a primary component of natural gas. Methane is also a greenhouse gas that is over 25 times more potent than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere and has an atmospheric lifetime of about 12 years. It is produced through natural processes like plant and animal waste, but man-made sources like landfills are also major emitters. Methane has a direct influence on the climate system and the earth’s temperature.
When methane reaches the surface and the atmosphere, it is known as atmospheric methane.
Over a 20-year period, methane traps 84 times more heat per mass unit than CO2 and 105 times the effect when accounting for aerosol interactions such as fog, dust, and smoke. Over the last two centuries, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have doubled, largely due to human-related activities. Because methane is both a powerful greenhouse gas and short-lived compared to carbon dioxide, achieving significant reductions would have a rapid and significant effect on atmospheric warming potential.
Methane from Landfills
Methane is produced from the anaerobic disintegration of organic waste in landfills. When waste is first added to a landfill, there is ample oxygen and therefore the waste undergoes aerobic decomposition; during which time hardly any methane is created. Yet, normally within one year the oxygen levels have been depleted and anaerobic conditions dominate the landfill allowing methanogens to take over the decomposition process. These methanogens emit methane, which works its way out of the landfill as fugitive emissions, and these emissions currently represent at least 21% of California’s annual methane emissions.
Impact on California Climate
California’s climate is changing. Southern California has warmed about three degrees (F) in the last century and all of the state is becoming warmer. Heat waves are becoming more common, snow is melting earlier in spring—and in southern California, less rain is falling as well. In the coming decades, the changing climate is likely to further decrease the supply of water, increase the risk of wildfires, and threaten coastal development and ecosystems.
Rising temperatures increase the rate at which water evaporates into the air from soils and surface waters. Rising temperatures also increase the rate at which plants transpire water into the air to keep cool, so irrigated farmland would need more water. But less water is likely to be available, because precipitation is unlikely to increase as much as evaporation.
About 90 percent of crops harvested in California are grown on farms that are entirely irrigated, so a sustained decrease in the amount of water available for irrigation would force farmers to either reduce the acreage under cultivation or shift away from the most water-intensive crops.
Higher temperatures and drought are likely to increase the severity, frequency, and extent of wildfires, which could harm property, livelihoods, and human health. Wildfire smoke can reduce air quality and increase medical visits for chest pains, respiratory problems, and heart problems.
What is SB 1383?
SB 1383 is a California regulation signed by California’s Governor Brown in 2016. It is designed to protect California’s economy, environment, and residents from the impacts of climate change.
SB 1383 establishes two organic waste disposal reduction targets tied to the 2014 baseline of 23 million tons of organic waste disposal. Those targets are:
- 2020 - 50% organic waste reduction from 2014 baseline (11.5 million tons allowed landfill disposal of organic waste)
- 2025 - 75% organic waste reduction from 2014 baseline (5.75 million tons allowed landfill disposal of organic waste)
Included in the 2025 target of 75% organic waste reduction is a mandate that requires that at least 20% of edible food that is currently disposed of be recovered for human consumption.
Projected population growth in California will result in an estimated 32 million tons of organic waste generated annually by 2025. This means that the state will need to reduce, reuse, or recover 27 million tons of organic waste in 2025. This amount mandatory to recover will increase as the population increases in subsequent years.
Benefits of SB 1383
Environmental benefits of SB 1383 include improved soil water retention and carbon sequestration from increased application of compost, reduced demand for landfill capacity, and reduced reliance on fossil fuels. Reduced methane emissions will result in up to $2.4 billion in benefits from avoided climate change mitigation costs.
Year of 2014: 23 million tons of California’s organic waste is disposed of in landfills.
September 19, 2016: Governor Brown signs SB 1383.
January 1, 2020: Deadline for target of 11.5 million tons organic waste disposal (50% reduction from 2014 baseline).
July 1, 2020: CalRecycle and the Air Resources Board must analyze the progress made towards meeting the organic waste reduction targets for 2020 and 2025.
January 1, 2022: Regulations enforcing the organic waste reduction targets take effect; California residents will no longer be allowed to throw their food scraps in the garbage can designated for the landfill.
January 1, 2025: Deadline for target of 5.75 million tons organic waste disposal (75% reduction from 2014 baseline).