City Council updates Stockton’s municipal code on separate trash bins

Stockton residents have been separating waste for 18 years, but decision officially puts city in compliance with state rules

Separating food scraps and other organic materials and recyclables from regular trash bins was enshrined into the city of Stockton’s municipal code. 

But this isn’t a new concept for most Stocktonians.

Stockton residents have been separating their waste into different containers since 2004, City Solid Waste Manager Grace Smith said. 

“We’ve always been doing this,” she says. 

However, a new state law mandates that local governments put this requirement on the books and enforce it. 

Gov. Brown signed bill in 2016

Former California Gov. Jerry Brown signed state Senate Bill 1383 into law in 2016 as part of the state’s policy to reduce short-lived pollutants that contribute to the “climate crisis.” Smith described this recent state environmental legislation as one of the most encompassing in nearly three decades.

“There’s a whole bunch of things involved in it,” Smith said. “But as part of SB 1383, jurisdictions within the state of California are required to collect organic waste.” 

Organic waste, also known as organics, is defined in the city’s municipal code as “material originating from living organisms and their metabolic waste products,” such as food, yard trimmings and writing paper.

The state even provided what has been described as a deal sweetener in the form of a $422,000 grant offered to each jurisdiction that passed an enforceable ordinance by Wednesday to support the implementation of SB 1383-related programs. 

The Stockton trash bins: Yellow (recyclable materials), Grey (household trash) and Green (Green/Food waste). (SCOTT LINESBURGH/STOCKTONIA)

Stockton City Council voted unanimously last Tuesday evening to update the city’s municipal code to comply. 

In addition to implementing statewide organic waste recycling and surplus food recovery, SB 1383 includes ambitious emissions reduction targets for methane that must be reached over the next few years, according to a presentation before the City Council at its meeting Tuesday. The state mandated a 50% reduction of organic waste in landfills by 2020 and a 75% reduction by 2025. 

“Landfills generate methane when we put organic waste into them, food or yard trimmings or paper or cardboard, things like that,” Rob Hilton, president of the environmentally-responsible consulting firm HF&H, told the City Council.

Methane from food waste is considered to be a short-lived pollutant and has more short-term potency in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, Hilton said. 

SB 1383 regulations went into effect at the beginning of this year and local jurisdictions are required to start enforcing their own related ordinances by January 2024, creating a two-year gap to allow for “extensive outreach and education to bring residents and businesses into compliance.” 

New Ordinance

The new ordinance generally updated existing language and policies already within the city’s municipal code, Smith said. It requires residents to subscribe to recycling and organics collection services, as well as then separate those items into different containers, which Stocktonians have already been doing for nearly two decades. 

Businesses and multifamily and multicommercial tenant property landlords must also subscribe to recycling and organics collection services, unless granted a waiver, and place waste in the correct containers. They are also being required to provide annual education to employees and tenants on how to properly sort waste. Additionally, businesses must monitor their containers. 

“So everybody has a role in this,” Hilton said. 

There is an opportunity for requirement waivers for multifamily tenant properties and commercial operations. 

Waste sorting regulations also apply to self-haulers, commercial haulers and waste facility operators. 

SB 1383 also requires language regarding the city’s paper product purchasing habits and the recycling practices of waste from construction and demolition projects, Hilton said, most of which had already been previously implemented and is now directly in the city’s municipal code.

Commercial edible food generators, which include wholesale food vendors, grocery stores, hotels and restaurants, must also put aside surplus edible food to be donated. The state has set a 20% reduction of edible food in landfills by 2025.

“Under the law (they) are required to have an arrangement with a feeding organization, a written contractual arrangement with a feeding organization, and set aside that food and donate it to that organization on a regular basis,” Hilton said. “They’re looking to recover some of the good healthy, safe, edible food that otherwise gets discarded and route that to hungry folks that could eat it.” 

Stockton renewed its agreement with the city’s collection companies, Republic Services and Waste Management, more than two years ago, which Smith said took into consideration SB 1383 requirements. The agreement also allowed for a surcharge program that was implemented last year for residents who repeatedly failed to properly separate waste or overfilled their bins. 

Smith says the contamination and overflow carts surcharge program has since been put on hold and any fees added to customers’ bills as a result have been removed. The surcharge hold does not apply to commercial customers, she said.

“However, both haulers have hired additional diversion coordinators and recycling coordinators to make sure that they contact those customers and help them in any way so they can avoid those charges,” Smith said.

Pause put on penalty surcharges

Stockton residents have aired complaints about the surcharges at previous City Council meetings and council members have expressed concern over whether some customers will be charged unfairly due to conditions beyond their control, such as contaminants being added to recycling and organics bins after a customer has already put them out on the street for collection.

Though the pause on penalty surcharges won’t last forever, Smith said the city is currently focused on conducting and expanding additional outreach and education to help residents understand the benefits of separating organics and recyclables from other general household waste, as well as how to properly fill their bins. 

She also noted that everyone absorbs information differently and said that the city is going to reach out to people through as many different mediums and languages as are needed to get the word out. 

“We’re gonna try to capture as many people’s attention as possible and make sure that they’re aware of this well in advance,” Smith said. 

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