It’s a trend we’ve heard about at every industry conference from the U.S. Composting Council, to WasteExpo to SWANApalooza: recovering organics, the largest percentage of the waste stream, is going to take changes to state and local government recycling policy. This policy shift has taken place at the local level in the form of exclusive franchise agreements, requiring franchise holders to meet organic diversion targets or pay hefty fines such as the City of Los Angeles, and also through city-wide mandatory organics recycling ordinances like in Austin, Texas or the City of San Francisco.

State legislatures have also taken a stab at organics recycling policy. With Northeastern states like Connecticut and Massachusetts taking a more conservative approach, focusing only on the largest commercial generators of wasted food, the West Coast has set, by far, the most aggressive targets for organics recycling across the country. California’s SB 1383 requires the state to divert 50% of organics from disposal by 2022 and 75% by 2025. This will require local governments to roll out commercial and residential organics collection programs in short order, and in many cases, these programs will take on educating a mostly uninformed public, unfamiliar with the “rules” of organics recycling.

Policy change isn’t enough, however, if the same old methods of collection are applied. While we’re seeing various approaches in response to policy shifts across the U.S., the results are largely the same. Contamination of the organics stream is a persistent and complicated problem which organics recycling programs applying traditional methods are facing, no matter the geography or demographic. The State of Washington realized the impacts contamination was having on their organics recycling rates. Increased contamination results in increased labor, equipment maintenance and capital costs for organics processors and these added costs find their way back to collection rates. Washington decided to convene a group of experts and work with Washington State University to tackle contamination of the organics stream. Through their research, this group found that “While most contracts require the hauler to refuse contaminated organic materials, in practice contractual requirements are often either not observed by the driver or not enforced by the local jurisdiction. Close inspection of cart contents is hampered by automated collection methods, and the necessary follow-up and enforcement are often critically limited due to staff availability in smaller jurisdictions.”  Clearly, the monitoring, reporting and historical tracking of contamination are falling victim to human error and inconsistent actions.

While aggressive organics recycling policies give us a great opportunity to build and sustain domestic recyclable commodities markets, they also create the threat of creating a domestic national sword. Organics recycling success is dependent on our industry’s ability to properly motivate and educate waste generators to stop contamination at its source. We must not only ensure that we are rolling out the strictest monitoring standards for contamination while providing frequent and consistent feedback to our customers, but also ensure we are using the tools that set us up for domestic recycling success.

So, how do we accomplish this economically with tools available today?  In Part II, we’ll look at how artificial intelligence and the Industrial Internet of Things are currently helping us identify contamination to improve hauler operations and educate generators to stop contamination at the source.

Written By

Rachel Oster, Principal, Diversion Strategies
Diversion Strategies is a full-service consulting firm based in Sacramento, California, supporting the solid waste and recycling industry’s growth. The Firm’s capabilities range from permitting and development of commercial infrastructure, to government advocacy, to facility operation and support.


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