Signal Hill to start recycling organic waste by Jan. 1, 2022, possibly for higher fee

Signal Hill has to figure out how to collect and recycle all the city’s organic waste – and reduce its edible-food waste – by the end of 2021 to comply with California Senate Bill (SB) 1383.

The bill aims to increase organic-waste disposal by more than 20-million tons per year by 2025 and reduce edible-food disposal by 20%, according to Kristine Guerrero, public-affairs manager and legislative director for the advocacy group League of California Cities (LCC). 

Guerrero told the Signal Hill City Council during its meeting Tuesday, March 9 that the measure’s ultimate purpose is to reduce methane-gas emissions from landfills to mitigate climate change.

“We’ve seen the effects of wildfires, warmer temperatures [and] sea-rise erosion,” she said.

Though SB 1383 was signed into law in September 2016, Guerrero said the California Department of Resources, Recycling and Recovery – or CalRecycle, the agency responsible for the bill’s implementation – only released regulations on the bill in November 2020. 

Signal Hill – along with other California municipalities – now has to scramble to comply by Jan. 1 next year or pay penalties of up to $10,000 per day. 

“It’s a whole new waste-collection system that residents and businesses will have to learn to get used to,” Guerrero said. 

And cities have to implement that system with no State funding. Instead, most municipalities anticipate having to raise waste-collection rates by up to 20% within three years, or draw from their general-fund budgets, to comply with the bill’s requirements, Guerrero said.

Those requirements include providing organic-waste collection bins to all residents and businesses, creating an edible-food waste recovery program and conducting community outreach and education, Guerrero said.

Cities also have to purchase recycled products from the State, such as compost, mulch, electricity generated from biomass and natural gas.

But the biggest cost-driving factor facing cities is having to find or build organic-waste recycling facilities. 

“This includes compost facilities and anaerobic digesters,” Guerrero said. “Currently, there aren’t enough in the state to handle all the organic-waste diversion from cities and counties.”

CalRecycle estimates it will cost California municipalities an average total of $330 million per year through 2030 to implement SB 1383, the brunt of which will be evenly shared by ratepaying households and businesses, Guerrero said. 

Furthermore, Signal Hill and other cities will need to dedicate new or existing staff to implement and then monitor the new system.  

Public Works Director Kelli Tunnicliff said that for Signal Hill to comply with SB 1383, it needs to pass an enforceable organics ordinance, a waste-product procurement policy and a food-recovery policy.

The City currently doesn’t have any local partners to assist in salvaging edible food from grocery stores and restaurants before it is disposed, Tunnicliff said. The closest would be the Salvation Army in Long Beach, she added.

The City would also have to give all residents and businesses a third bin for food and green waste, in addition to the trash and recycling bins they currently have, and educate them on using it before the end of this year, Tunnicliff said. 

LCC has been pushing for the State to delay SB 1383’s implementation deadline, Guerrero said, especially since cities have only just started recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and because the state lacks enough recycling infrastructure. 

She mentioned SB 619 as a bill introduced to the State Legislature in February that, if passed, could extend the deadline for implementation beyond nine months from now. 

Steve South, president and CEO of EDCO, Signal Hill’s waste-disposal contractor, said he doesn’t anticipate the State will back down from its mandate despite the hurried timeline.

“We will be prepared to assist and implement to make sure the City is in compliance,” he said.

Tunnicliff said EDCO will need to do most of the work but the City will likely need to increase residential and business refuse-collection rates to pay for those additional services. The City may also need to hire more staff, she added.

Though council members expressed objection to the short timeline and cost, Guerrero said the State expected local governments to start planning to implement the bill soon after it was passed into law in 2016.

Councilmembers Robert Copeland and Tina Hansen volunteered to join a waste subcommittee, which also includes Tunnicliff, City Manager Hannah Shin-Heydorn, Deputy City Manager Scott Charney and the interim city attorney, to study implementing SB 1383 – including a possible rate increase – and report its findings back to the council.

Councilmember Lori Woods said Signal Hill has always complied with State environmental mandates, such as capturing stormwater runoff to keep trash out of waterways, but would like to have had more time to implement SB 1383.

“It’s unfortunate, but we’ll comply,” Woods said. “We’ll do our best, as we’ve historically done.”

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