Let Inga Tell You: Some issues to chew on as we get closer to mandatory food waste recycling

Inga is trying to imagine putting food waste into a green bin that looks like this after a few pickups by trash trucks.

It’s going to be a whole new trash world on Jan. 1 when California residents will be required to recycle food waste. Yup, all those chicken bones, shrimp tails, coffee grounds, moldy lunch meat, vegetable peelings and greasy fast food. Yes, even those scrambled eggs your picky toddler refused to eat.

Concept-wise, Senate Bill 1383, the legislation behind this change, is a fantastically good idea. Much of San Diego’s waste composition is methane-producing organic material, apparently a far bigger contributor to global warming than carbon dioxide.

Increasing the win, this organic waste could be converted to fertilizer, compressed natural gas for vehicles or uses not yet imagined.

As with all such drastic changes, even ones that are well-intentioned, I anticipate some serious problems in the transition.

A major issue, of course, will be compliance.

People or businesses failing to comply could be slapped with “fines.” By whom? And how? As with the Water Police a few years ago (asking residents to rat out their neighbors for running sprinklers on other than their designated days or times), I think this one is problematic. Will County Food Waste vigilantes be wandering about on trash day sniffing Hefty bags for whiffs of pizza crusts? Or worse, slicing the bags open? Will public shaming with the offending food waste — presumably left on the bin lid along with a citation — become a thing?

Apparently, part of this plan is that all the people who don’t yet have city-issued green waste bins (that would be my area) will be issued them. The organic food waste would go in there — no plastic bags — along with the yard waste.

Part of what worries me is that those city-issued bins of all colors are no match for trash trucks. I’m on my fourth black bin at this point, and it didn’t take them two pickups to split the lid. On my street, you’d be hard-put to find a black bin that isn’t duct-taped together. I have this fantasy that the trash guys entertain themselves by seeing who can splinter the most bins in a given trash day. (“Good one, George! You got the wheels totally off that one!”)

I’m trying to even imagine the rat problem if we have food waste sitting in fractured green bins. Rats can squish themselves into a half-inch-high space. The local rodents are celebrating already.

The other issue that I don’t think the state has quite worked out is what to do with all that food waste between consumption and trash pickup. Remember: no plastic bags. A little research found that it will be recommended that residents wrap their food waste in newspapers or paper grocery bags and keep it in their refrigerator or freezer until trash day. No offense, but this suggestion was clearly made by a guy. (In point of fact, it was.)

The idea of keeping a paper grocery bag full of food waste in my fridge frankly makes me gag. Your best hope is that your teenager will eat it. They’re fortunately pretty non-discriminating.

It would especially make me gag when I pulled the bag out of the fridge on trash day and the bottom fell out because all that food waste was wet. It is for this reason that the plastic trash bag industry has been so successful.

I have read that the city may help this somewhat by issuing countertop food containers to put waste in between trash pickups. The picture I saw of it means I’d have to dispense with my blender and my mini-Cuisinart on my limited counter space. Definitely sounds better than the fridge solution, but even then, how do its aromatic contents get from there to the green bin?

I actually have firsthand experience with food waste. When my older son, Rory, was in fifth grade, he accidentally threw out his $200 dental appliance with his lunch bag. As a divorced working mom living paycheck to paycheck, I most definitely could not afford a new one. I took an afternoon off from work, and with the school’s permission, worked my way through the school’s trash bin, opening bag after bag of the detritus of that day’s lunch. Let me tell you, I can attest that a lot of food is wasted. None of the kids ate the fruit. Most didn’t eat the bread crusts. And by the way, I did find the dental appliance. But I still haven’t recovered from the experience.

Come 2022, there is going to have to be a crash course for everyone on What Goes in What Bin. Because as of Jan. 1, there can be no food in the blue or black bins; no glass or plastic in the green or black; no dog poop, diapers or plastic bags in green or blue.

There will be a quiz.

Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at ◆