You may have noticed that there is a new green or brown addition to the waste bin line up at your home or office, but a lack of education is causing confusion for businesses and residents across the county. 

So let’s talk about these bins, why they have shown up, and how you can use them properly.

Why is organics recycling important?

When organic materials (like food) are disposed of in our landfills, they are deprived of oxygen, which causes an anaerobic decomposition process. During this extended breakdown, organic materials release methane, a greenhouse gas that is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Landfills are responsible for 21% of California’s methane gas emissions—so keeping food waste and other organic materials out of the landfill is a very important piece to reaching climate goals.

A large portion of the six million annual tons of food waste in California, especially from larger businesses like grocery stores, is completely edible, while current statistics show that one in four San Diegans is nutrition insecure. A solution is needed to divert this edible food away from waste streams and feed people in our community. 

As you can imagine, attempting to tackle these issues will take a lot of time, effort, education, and all of us lending a hand.


SB 1383 was adopted by the state of California in 2016 and the regulations began to take effect in 2022, which is why we are starting to see new bins and guidelines throughout the county. Two milestones and goals in this legislation advocates are determined to help achieve by 2025 are: 

  • A 75% reduction of organics disposal in landfills (using reduction and diversion strategies)
  • A 20% increase in edible food recovery (keeping edible food out of the waste streams and diverting it to people in need)

These goals are aggressive, but most importantly, if we all work together, they are attainable. 

How will this affect me at home?

Most cities in San Diego have begun to roll out curbside organics recycling programs. This means that you likely have been provided with a new green or brown bin for green waste (yard, kitchen, and other organic materials). If you haven’t received your bin yet, you can reach out to your city and waste hauler for updates.

A few key points

  • Residents can use their curbside bins for all organic materials including yard waste, food waste, and food-soiled paper.
  • Home composting is a great option, especially if you have a home garden, but if there are additional organics you don’t process at home, using the curbside bins is available to boost your routine.
  • Avoiding contamination is KEY. No plastics or other non-organic materials should go into the organics bin.

How will this affect my business?

Under the new legislation, all businesses (with an emphasis on food-related operations) are required to divert 100% of their food waste and organics away from landfills and into organics recycling. Cities and waste haulers are working hard to provide bins, guidelines, and education for businesses before compliance enforcements take effect in 2024.

Some food businesses will be required to donate excess edible food for local food recovery. Qualifying businesses should expect to be contacted by their city with more details about the program.

If you have already received your bins and aren’t sure how to use them, contact your city or waste hauler and they will provide details and resources for setting you and your employees up for success.

A few key points

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is new to everyone and we are all learning together—see additional resources at the end of this article.
  • Food waste prevention is an important part of strategizing a successful program at your business. There are so many simple and creative ways to prevent waste, many of which will help you save money. 
  • Businesses that deal with food (e.g. shops, restaurants, wholesalers) have an amazing opportunity to make a difference in our community – share this idea with your employees and develop best practices together for diverting food waste and edible food to the proper streams.
  • Avoiding contamination is KEY. No plastics or other non-organic materials should go into the organics bin.

Common Questions

I spoke with the Environmental Solutions team at the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation about some of the most common questions they receive about the new organics recycling programs. Here are some answers and additional resources below.

Q: How do I keep my bin from smelling?

A: Layering yard waste and soiled papers between food waste can help absorb potential odors in your green or brown bin. For cleaning, white vinegar and baking soda will provide a cleanse for stubborn odors.

Lowering your food waste by using prevention strategies at home and at your business will help with this as well. Proper purchasing, storage, and getting creative in the kitchen are some simple ways to save money and prevent waste.

Q: Are there any tips for helping with green-bin pest control at home or business?

  • Layer your curbside green bin and home compost with soiled paper and yard waste to absorb excess liquids and odors.
  • Freeze your food scraps until pick-up day and then add them to your green bin just before.
  • Clean bins periodically with vinegar and baking soda.
  • Apply food waste prevention habits in your kitchen to lower the amount of material in your green bins.
  • If you have an issue with pests or insects, reach out to a local resource for assistance and suggestions—we are all in this together.

Q: Can I use compostable/biodegradable liners?

A: Most of the organics recycling systems in San Diego County DO NOT allow compostable or biodegradable liners at this time. This is because the bags will not break down fast enough and can cause contamination issues. Always check with your city and hauler to confirm the guidelines in your area.

Q: What can I put in my organics bin?

A: Every city and hauler may have slightly different guidelines for what is allowed in your curbside bin but here are some basics we can all follow.


  • food scraps or waste (cooking scraps, plate waste, uneaten food like forgotten leftovers or produce)
  • yard waste (gardening and landscaping waste)
  • soiled paper (such as used paper towels and parchment paper)
  • fiber-based compostable wares (e.g. bamboo utensils, paper plates/containers without lining)


  • non-organic material (plastics like bags, twist ties and food packaging, metal, glass, etc.)
  • PLA compostable wares (if it looks and feels like plastic keep it OUT of your green bin, even if it says compostable)
  • pet waste


  • excess non-perishable pantry items
  • excess produce from the store or your garden
  • excess prepared food or leftovers (with friends and family)

Additional Resources

Solana Center for Environmental Innovation

  • residential and business organics recycling
  • SB 1383 compliance assistance
  • home composting
  • education, workshops, and climate action resources


  • statewide residential and business organics recycling info
  • SB 1383 resources

Waste Haulers


Republic Services

Waste Management

Like-minded neighbors

Sustainability is Sexy

  • food waste prevention education
  • zero waste event consulting
  • local resources

Seed and Trellis

  • home composting
  • home gardening

Making a difference

Food waste prevention, reduction, and diversion on a local, state, and global level, are key strategies to address the climate crisis and food insecurity. I am grateful to live in a community with so many passionate individuals and organizations working towards these common goals and hope that you are inspired to join this important piece of climate action. There are so many resources in San Diego for home composting, gardening, food waste prevention, and food donation.

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About the Contributor
Liz Murphy
‍Liz Murphy is a local plant-based chef and sustainability warrior. Find her new cookbook, Kitchen Contentment at or look for it at local San Diego shops.More sustainable gifts from the writer of The Sustainable Foodist: Guide to Giving Planet-Friendly GiftsSantosha Nutrition offers a plant-based cooking class with Chef Liz, a unique and fun gift for cooks of any level. Certificates include an interactive virtual or in-person cooking experience, with three recipes in a digital recipe packet with instructions. Find more info here.The cookbook Kitchen Contentment: A Seasonal Guide to Cooking with Plants contains over 50 vegan and gluten-free recipes. Chef Liz’s first cookbook is arranged by season to encourage support for local farmers and shops. The book is printed sustainably through a carbon-neutral process on recycled paper. Find yours here.