by David Goldstein
Ventura County Public Works Agency

Most people know that recycling involves a form of manufacturing, using recovered resources. Environmentally minded people also know that the term “organic” means grown without chemical pesticides or fertilizer. But the term “organics recycling” means something else entirely.
The state of California’s new mandates regarding organics recycling relate to a category of waste called “organics,” namely discards capable of being turned into compost or mulch. Comprising over 30 percent of the material that Ventura County residents and businesses currently put into local landfills, organics include grass clippings, tree prunings, food scraps, discarded lumber and paper too soiled with food to be recycled.
Starting this year, Assembly Bill 1826 requires many types of businesses to recycle organics if they generate these degradable materials in sufficient amounts.
Curbside recycling popularized can, bottle, plastic and paper recycling for residents and received its major impetus in California due to state legislation in 1989 (AB 939), so now agencies such as the California Department of Resources Recovery and Recycling (CalRecycle) are anticipating that AB 1826 will targeting a major untapped source of waste in the commercial sector and spur changes in the way people manage their discards.
Diversion of organics from landfills is important in order to recover valuable soil nutrients through composting, to reduce evaporation of water from soil through increased use of mulch, to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers through both compost and mulch, and to reduce the amount of buried rotting material. Local landfills capture and recover the energy from methane generated by rotting garbage, but some methane can escape collection systems or emit before or after collection systems are operational. Methane is far more powerful than carbon as a greenhouse gas, so organics recycling is a measure to fight climate change.
Options
Over the next several years, local refuse collectors may collect more yard clippings and other organics, following AB 1826 organics recycling mandates, but where will the material go? Markets for organics face challenges.
In previous years, some organics were used in place of dirt to cover garbage in landfills at the end of each day. This practice will no longer count as recycling, under a separate state mandate (AB 1594).
Instead, local composting and mulching businesses like Agromin, Peach Hill Soils and Ojai Valley Organics are hoping that mulch and compost created by the recycled organics will be bought by local residents, landscapers and farmers. The spread of possible pathogens, however, may pose challenges to this strategy. Unless composting and mulch facilities can assure purchasers of mulch and compost, markets for materials may suffer.
Some local proposals for energy recovery from anaerobic digestion of organics waste seem to provide a potential solution. The low price of oil and natural gas, along with other factors, could make this option less profitable. Low energy prices have already led to the closure of some biomass energy facilities in Kern County, which have received material from Ventura County in the past; and unlike Kern, our potential responses probably do not include more burn days.
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Compost classes, tree care program can help reduce waste
As with many waste management solutions, the best answer is to reduce the generation of materials in the first place. Starting a compost bin and handling your own organics onsite is one potential solution. Compost is a valuable soil amendment.
The city of Ventura has helpful upcoming classes about composting, tree care and gardening. To find out more, see www.cityofventura.net/waterwise, or you can register at www.waterwisegardeningclasses.eventbrite.com for classes on Saturdays from 10 to 11:30 am. Topics include garden design, composting, irrigation, rainwater harvesting and using reclaimed or graywater in your garden.
Composting requires more environmental commitment and time than some are willing to muster, especially in communities offering curbside collection of yard clippings, but there are also other forms of waste prevention. Another viable organics-waste prevention measure is to maintain your trees and other vegetation that have been weakened by drought and may be vulnerable to upcoming storms.
Master Gardener Program Advisor James Downer, Ph.D., is teaching a class on the topic of tree care this Saturday, Jan. 30, from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Hansen Agricultural Research and Extension Center near Santa Paula. He will include information about caring for trees in a drought as well as pruning techniques for deciduous and fruit trees.  The cost to attend is $20, and the public can visit the Master Gardener website for more information at http://ucanr.edu/sites/VCMG/. Registration information is listed under the calendar section and on the left side of the page.
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Eye on the Environment is a service of the Ventura County Public Works Agency. Master Gardener Jessica Craven, University of California Cooperative Extension, assisted with text for this article.