BRAWLEY — In a unanimous decision, the Brawley City Council approved a resolution at its regular meeting Tuesday, Nov. 16 that would see the city comply with the state-mandated Organic Recycling Program that will go into effect in 2022.
The Councilmembers noted their reluctance to approve the ordinance but did so because it was a state mandate.
“Organic waste comprises half of California’s disposed waste stream and food waste comprises 13 percent of the state’s disposed waste. This is happening while so many Californians go hungry every night in California … another reason why this is so important is to fight against climate change, SB 1383 passed in 2016 as part of California’s larger strategy to combat climate change,” said CalRecycle Local Assistant Marketing Development Liaison for the areas of San Diego and Imperial Counties, Haley Aumiller.
Aumiller said SB 1383 is a statewide mandate that requires Californians to reduce organic waste disposal by 75 percent and to increase edible food recovery by 20 percent by 2025. Aumiller said organic waste includes food waste, paper, cardboards, organic textiles and carpets, lumber, wood, digestate, manure, and biosolids and that the regulations take effect in January 2022.
“There are many benefits if you successfully implement California’s super pollutant production strategy, including the environmental benefits such as fighting climate change, improved air quality, and less landfill waste providing millions of meals to Californians who do not have enough food to eat and creating thousands of new green jobs,” said Aumiller.
Aumiller said local jurisdictions like the city council will be responsible for educating the public and developing outreach programs on organics recycling to all residents and businesses. Aumiller also said CalRecycle will be offering grants to cities to help them meet the new regulations.
“As part of the governor’s $15 billion climate package, CalRecycle was provided $105 million for organic infrastructure grants and $60 million grants for local jurisdictions to assist in the implementation of SB 1383. This funding is great news for facilities and jurisdictions in California,” said Aumiller.
Mayor Luke Hamby asked Aumiller for clarification on what an edible food recovery program looked like.
“It’s food that can be taken from grocery stores and stuff and re-distributed for people to eat,” said Aumiller. “It’s not like a half-eaten sandwich that you’re taking from someone’s hands and giving it to somebody else, it is sellable food that you are redistributing,” said Aumiller.
Councilmember Donald Wharton was the first to express a deep skepticism on the functionality of the recycling program and said he has not been a fan of it from the very beginning.
“That’s great there’s a grant program but I still have a lot of questions about how those impacts, all I heard was content on enforcement, enforcement, enforcement so what I would like to know is what are those estimates on how this program is ultimately funded based on violations, based on fines, based on enforcement actions that are going to be, what I saw to be charged to us as a city,” said Wharton.
Wharton said he needs to be able to tell his constituency what the direct impacts are going to be to the community and is concerned he has not gotten those answers.
“Are there numbers that help jurisdictions like us on what is the cost to implement? And the other thing I would like to know is, are there other states that have implemented similar unfunded mandates and how their success has been or if we are on the leading edge on this,” said Wharton.
CalRecycle Branch Chief Cara Morgan said other states are taking a look at how California is implementing this mandatory recycling program to determine how they will follow suit.
“This is the first state in the US to develop something as comprehensive as this … it’s definitely something that’s taking shape in the United States,” said Morgan.
Mayor Pro-tem Sam Couchman said that while he does not mind the implementation of programs handed down by the state, he does mind when they are fined $10,000 for every violation that occurs daily.
“So basically, what it does is you have this requirement, and you have to abide by this requirement or else the city gets fined, which means the taxpayer gets fined because that’s where all the money comes from,” he said. “So, you have low income people paying taxes and then they’re being fined $10,000 a day by the state and that money is leaving the county or the city and those people aren’t benefited at all and so one of the problems that I see is that it’s nice to put the carrot out there and then beat you with a stick, but what do we ultimately get out of this.”
Couchman said he felt this particular recycling program would go over much better with the public if this were a voluntary program instead of a mandatory program.
“The punishment begins to become more important than the actual program,” said Couchman. “I’ve been in governmental service now for 40 plus years, and I’ve seen that through the whole process, at the county level, at the state level, at the federal level. And then I noticed on one of the slides the feds aren’t required to comply, they can do whatever they want in the city, and they don’t have to comply with the ordinance.”
Councilmember George Nava agreed with his colleagues on all of their points and said he does not believe that everyone in the state will comply with the mandate.
“In my opinion, it’s outrageous. Now we put greater emphasis on the city to take care of these issues and it is just mandated on us without any real financial support other than ‘ok we’re going to give you $60 billion to make some flyers and educate people,’” said Nava.
Wharton said the plan is so complex and does not know how the state expects all of the local businesses to understand all of what they have to abide by in the new recycling program.
“It’s very clear to me that the violations were very red and white as far as it was presented but the implementation was very grey and opaque in my opinion,” said Wharton.
Couchman was concerned about what impact asking stores to recycle edible food would have on the local economy.
“Are people going to go buy the product if they can get it for free later on … it’s not just the implementation of a law, it’s a cultural and a thought change by the members of the public and by all of us that have lived in this society for as long as we have … and I’m not sure that will happen by 2022,” said Couchman.
Morgan clarified that some of the requirements will be imposed on the various entities of CalRecycle rather than on the cities themselves. Morgan said Brawley should be in great shape to adapt to the new regulations because of the presence of Republic Services.
“You already have a very robust collection program and so when we talk about the enforcement arm of this, the city of Brawley is in a very great position with your partner in Republic and the services that Republic already provides, and so, I am really anticipating there to be little to no need for enforcement action come 2024 because your residents and your businesses are being provided the service,” said Morgan “When it comes to edible food collection we are seeing supermarkets and businesses across the state in poor communities and not poor communities that are really interested in participating in this program.”