Published Nov. 12, 2021
BY SHAYLA DUTTA
In accordance with a state law going into effect Jan. 1, 2022, all California residents and businesses will be required to divert food waste and organic materials from the landfill into a separate organic waste collection provided by local governments, prompting a necessity for changes to the waste collection system at Carmel High School.
The state adopted this bill in 2016 with the hopes of reducing organic material in landfills which produces methane as it breaks down. The idea is simple: diverting food and other organic waste to a separate collection system to be processed in an environmentally friendly way, such as turning it into electricity or biofuel. For single-family homes, it’s only a matter of putting leftover food and dirty pizza boxes in the green yard waste bin instead of the trash.
For Carmel High School, with over 800 students, managing student waste becomes a bit more complicated.
“Right now we do a mixed-solid waste that’s picked up three times a week, and we have a recycling program which focuses on paper, cardboard, bottles and cans,” says Dan Paul, CUSD’s director of facilities and transportation. “This new law is a requirement to separate your organics. That’s basically food waste, clean (non pressure-treated) wood, landscaping trimmings and soiled paper.”
There are currently three main sources of organic waste at CHS: the cafeteria, the landscaping and food waste from staff and students. Currently, landscaping waste is already separated from the landfill in CUSD, while a program to separate food waste from the cafeteria is already underway.
“We’re working with Monterey Waste Management now,” principal’s secretary Lisa Brazil says. “They’re starting to send all the kitchen waste to compost already. But currently there is not a plan in place to compost student waste, and the reason for that is we can’t figure out a way to keep it uncontaminated.”
While the cafeteria and landscaping waste is easily collected and controlled, the issue lies in collecting student food waste.
“We’ve tried a pilot program with composting before, but we found that it needs to be a very clean waste stream,” Paul explains. “The waste stream coming out of the kitchen is very clean, but out on the campus, that’s where we have problems with the waste stream being contaminated.”
Monterey Regional Waste Management District isn’t expecting a full transition by Jan. 1, but is looking for a more gradual effort put into motion at that time.
“Penalties for violators and noncompliance are part of the escalating enforcement built into the regulation and will be the responsibility of each jurisdiction by 2024,” explains Kimberle Herring, the public education and outreach coordinator for MRWMD.
While a waste audit with the waste management district is planned for CHS, there won’t be sufficient time to implement a program for student waste collection. The difficulty of maintaining a clean waste stream, especially on an outdoor campus with spread-out eating areas such as at CHS, requires a more in-depth solution.
“How can we educate students to put compostable waste in a container without a piece of plastic or something contaminated?” Brazil says. “We would love to have compost bins, but we’re not currently planning on them because we can’t keep them clean.”
Although the law goes into effect soon, it allows for a transition period in which CUSD and the MRWMD plan to remedy the issue of student waste.
“Locally, we just want to make sure that everyone is complying,” Herring says. “We are happy to provide support to help with information and education for all to be successful.”