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Compost it. It’s the law.

Don’t trash it

Hey, Sacramentans, those used tea bags and coffee filters that up until now you have been putting in the trash? Become an even better citizen by redirecting them to the organic waste bin, formerly known as the yard waste bin.

In so doing, you will be joining the city of Sacramento’s composting program. Others throughout California are doing the same, due to a relatively new state law mandating public composting.

For almost a year now (since July 1, 2022), the city of Sacramento has been encouraging people to put all “food scraps, food-soiled paper and yard trimmings” into the organic waste can. Collection is weekly, as it is for garbage; recycle bins continue to be emptied every other week.

What does municipality-run organic-waste collection do in terms of sustainability and the environment? Here are benefits listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on its Sustainable Management of Food webpage:

• Organic waste in landfills generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. By composting food waste food and other organics, methane emissions are significantly reduced. • Compost reduces and, in some cases, eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers. • Compost promotes higher yields of agricultural crops. • Compost can help aid reforestation, wetlands restoration and habitat revitalization efforts by improving contaminated, compacted and marginal soils. • Compost can be used to remediate soils contaminated by hazardous waste in a cost effective manner. • Compost can provide cost savings over conventional soil, water and air pollution remediation technologies, where applicable. • Compost enhances water retention in soils. • Compost provides carbon sequestration.

Sacramento’s and other California cities’ implementation of compost-collection programs is largely linked to 2016’s Senate Bill 1383, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown. The legislation mandates that organic waste disposal in landfills will be reduced 75% by 2025. SB 1383 also calls for at least 20% of surplus food to be offered to people in need, again by 2025.

While supplies last, Sacramento continues to hand out (upon request) plastic food-waste pails for free, with a maximum of one per household. My family has used one since the program’s launch last year. The pail, 11 inches high and about 9 inches deep and wide, fits in a refrigerator, although we keep ours on our dryer and empty it often. It’s looking a bit stained by now, but it does the job.

Don’t have or want a pail? The city suggests you can instead use “a bowl, paper bag, BPI certified compostable plastic bag, or repurposed kitchen container such as a coffee tin or yogurt tub to collect food scraps.”

The obvious question is what specifically qualifies as organic waste? The city says: fruit and vegetable scraps; bread, grains and pasta; coffee grounds; dairy products and eggshells; meat and bones; fish and shellfish; leftover food; coffee filters and paper tea bags; greasy pizza boxes; paper plates and takeout boxes (uncoated, no plastic or wax lining); paper towels and napkins; and wine corks (natural).

What’s specifically not allowed: plastic and plastic bags; liquids; pet waste; cat litter; diapers; diseased plants; treated or painted wood; Styrofoam; wax-coated or plastic-lined takeout containers and cups; wax- or foil-lined paper cartons (including juice, soup and soymilk type boxes); single-use utensils; single-use coffee pods; ash or dirt.

For more information, including about composting by apartment buildings and businesses, visit and click on Recycling and Solid Waste.


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