San Diego’s new yard and food waste recycling to kick into high gear with bin deliveries and public outreach

Organic waste recycling using new green bins and kitchen pails will be rolled out to San Diego homes beginning next month.
(City of San Diego)

The city also will deliver kitchen pails to help residents comply with a new state law requiring organic waste recycling. Pickups begin for some next month.


San Diego’s efforts to comply with a new state law requiring recycling of yard trimmings and food scraps will kick into high gear Jan. 11 when delivery of 267,000 new green recycling bins begins to homes across the city.

The first wave of bins will be delivered in January and February to homes that get trash picked up on Wednesdays. Homes with Thursday trash pickup will get bins in March and April, and the process will continue until all bins are delivered by August.

Dozens of new trucks for organic recycling are arriving in the city this month, and new drivers have been hired — with the help of $2,500 signing bonuses — to operate the trucks when pickups begin next month.

City officials also have launched an aggressive education and outreach campaign to help residents understand the new law, Senate Bill 1383.

Residents must separate food waste and food-soiled paper products from their trash. Each customer will receive a plastic kitchen pail so food scraps can be kept under the sink or elsewhere in the kitchen until customers are ready to take the waste outside to their green recycling bin.

The city is scheduled to begin levying fines for non-compliance in January 2024.

A smooth transition to organic waste recycling is the city’s primary goal, according to Renee Robertson, director of the San Diego Environmental Services Department.

“We are focused on ensuring everyone has the tools to feel comfortable,” she said. “This is a huge effort, and no matter how well-planned, there will be some hiccups and issues to overcome.”

The state law is designed to fight climate change by reducing how much methane gas is emitted by landfills from decaying organic material such as food and yard waste that instead could have been composted for reuse.

The new bins and trucks will handle service at city homes that currently receive no-fee trash and recycling service. Those are mostly single-family homes but also include some condominiums and apartments where individual units have street access.

The new law also requires organic recycling at businesses, apartment complexes and condos in San Diego that are served by private haulers instead of city trucks.

The city negotiated new deals with eight private haulers this fall that require them to begin providing the service. Robertson said the haulers likely will have all their new green bins delivered by March — months ahead of the city.

Private haulers are expected to pass the cost of the new recycling service to their customers in the form of higher monthly fees.

San Diego officials say adding organic recycling increases the city’s annual costs for no-fee trash and recycling services more than $25 million per year. That doesn’t include an additional $30 million in one-time costs for new bins and trucks.

City also faces millions in ongoing costs because of ordinance requiring free trash pick-up at single-family homes

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However, city voters approved Measure B on the Nov. 8 ballot, allowing the city to start charging monthly fees to homes that have been receiving trash pickup for no additional fee.

Confusion and chaos are expected when the first bins are delivered next month, with many being dropped off next to parked cars and in other potentially inconvenient spots, Robertson said.

“We hope everyone can understand this one-time inconvenience and help ensure their neighbor gets the right bin,” Robertson said. She noted that bins will be delivered on streets but not in alleys.

Residents will receive one of three sizes of the green bin — 35, 65 or 95 gallons.

The 95-gallon bins will go to ordinary single-family homes and the 35-gallon bins will go to residents living in apartments and condos. The 65-gallon bins will go to people with space constraints or narrow passageways to access a street.

Customers who want a different-size bin than the one they receive have 14 days from the delivery date to request a replacement on the city’s Get It Done app or by calling the Environmental Services Department.

While bins will be delivered based on trash pickup day, priority will be given in each group to neighborhoods that scored highest on the city’s climate equity index. The index, created in 2019, measured which low-income and ethnically diverse neighborhoods are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Pickups of organic recycling will begin one week after new bins and kitchen pails are delivered. Residents will get instructions for what can be placed in the new bins one to two months before delivery.

City officials are sending all customers multicolored guides with illustrations and instructions in several languages.

Organic waste eligible for the green bins includes fruit, vegetables, eggs, dairy products, bread, baked goods, coffee filters, paper napkins, paper bags, parchment paper, grass, leaves, flowers, plant trimmings and non-hazardous wood.

Meat and chicken bones also are eligible, but they must be carefully stored in kitchen pails or frozen to avoid odors, Robertson said.

The instructional guides will explain how to effectively clean the green bins and kitchen pails.

The new trucks have a different body type than the city’s existing trash trucks and have a blue stripe instead of the orange stripe on the current trucks.

San Diego also is building a new recycling plant to compost all the organic waste the city will be collecting. It will replace the Miramar Greenery at the city’s landfill.

City officials are still working on a plan to better connect local food banks with restaurants and grocery stores that typically throw away large volumes of food. Robertson said she expects businesses to start slowly and then increase what they send to food banks.

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