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Climate and Environment

California’s New Compost Law Starts In January. What Does That Mean For You?

A woman with long light-colored hair, wearing a floppy white hat, is holding a pitchfork with one hand. In the other she's touching a large mound of compost.
Heather Williams, a senior environmental scientist with CalRecycle, at a community compost training at Amy's Farm in Ontario in June 2021.
(Jessica Langlois
/
LAist)
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You’ve learned how to recycle. Now you’ll have to learn how to deal with “green waste.” That’s things like banana peels, egg shells, coffee grounds and other food scraps that you'd normally put in the trash.

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California’s New Compost Law Starts In January. What Does That Mean For You?

Not any more. With the new year comes a new state law, one that will require California residents and businesses to separate food waste from other trash and recycling, and put it in the green bin for yard trimmings, instead of the trash can.

It’s the requirement of Senate Bill 1383, colloquially referred to as California’s compost law. The state legislature and then-Gov. Jerry Brown passed it in 2016 and it goes into effect on January 1.

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The program will be rolled out gradually, with the actual start date depending on the location of your home or business. You’ll get a notice from your local government about the specific requirements in your neighborhood.

It’s the biggest change to how California deals with waste since the state mandated recycling in the 1990s.

Reducing Methane Pollution

The landmark law aims to lower greenhouse gas emissions from landfills, and reduce waste in general. Organic waste makes up more than half of the stuff in landfills, and when it decomposes it creates methane, a greenhouse gas as much as 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

“20% of California's methane pollution comes from landfills, so the fastest, simplest, easiest thing that every Californian can do to fight climate change is to simply change the way they dispose of organic waste,” said Rachel Wagoner, director of CalRecycle, the state agency overseeing the law’s rollout.

The goal is to reduce the amount of organic waste in landfills by 75% by 2025. If the state achieves that goal, emission reductions would be equivalent to taking about a million cars off the road for a year, Wagoner said.

The diverted waste will be used instead for things like compost to fertilize local parks and biogas to fuel trash trucks.

Supermarket Waste

Additionally, the new law requires supermarkets and other food sellers to keep unused food out of the landfill — they’ll be required to donate surplus, edible food to food banks. The regulations also require local governments to purchase the byproducts produced by that waste, such as compost and mulch.

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“I've worked in environmental policy for over 20 years, and this is one of my most favorite topics,” Wagoner said. “I get to fight against pollution while at the same time taking something that would otherwise contaminate our planet and turn it into a resource.”

About 50% of local governments in California already have a fully operational program in place, Wagoner said. For example, San Francisco has been doing this since 2009. There will be some growing pains as jurisdictions improve and build out the infrastructure they need to do large-scale composting, she said.

In L.A., residents and businesses will start getting these notices in early 2022. Starting in 2024, you could be fined for disposing your organic waste improperly.

Here’s what you need to know once the law rolls out in your area:

What do I need to separate?

  • All food including cooked meat, bones, fish and small amounts of grease. Once L.A. rolls out its curbside program, food and yard waste can be put in your green bins. 

Where do I store my kitchen scraps?

  • L.A. county and city plan to distribute kitchen pails for residents to store food scraps. You can also store them in any container in a freezer or on your countertop. (Clean frequently to avoid smells). 

Will my waste bills go up?

  • Likely, yes. Most cities estimate rates will go up less than 20% over the next three years as the program gets up and running, according to a survey by the League of California Cities. Part of that increase in costs is due to the need to build or improve recycling and composting plants.
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