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Humboldt County Still Working to Implement Organic Waste System 

click to enlarge Moving forward, local cities and jurisdictions will need to support Humboldt County nonprofits’ current food recovery efforts through funding or partnerships to help them expand capacity for the incoming food donations mandated by S.B. 1383.


Moving forward, local cities and jurisdictions will need to support Humboldt County nonprofits’ current food recovery efforts through funding or partnerships to help them expand capacity for the incoming food donations mandated by S.B. 1383.

Humboldt Waste Management Authority, Recology Humboldt and local jurisdictions are working on building the infrastructure needed to collect organic waste from residents' curbside bins. Still, it will likely be a couple of years before the county as a whole is in full compliance with Senate Bill 1383, the state's landmark organic waste bill.

"Staff anticipates a phased approach to organics collection and processing, primarily due to the lack of infrastructure in place," HWMA interim Executive Director Eric Keller-Heckman said during the Jan. 12 board meeting. "This will also ensure a smooth transition and adequate time to address unforeseen issues, observe quality of materials and assess needed training and education abroad. Once implemented, ongoing management will be necessary with close coordination with member [agencies] and franchise haulers to address contamination and ensure education is being disseminated properly."

S.B. 1383 is a climate change law aimed at reducing methane emissions, one of the world's worst climate pollutants, by mandating organic waste recycling through curbside collection and drop-off services, as well as diverting food waste through an edible food recovery program, wherein businesses would donate still-edible food to food pantries and nonprofits. S.B. 1383 also requires cities and local governments to upcycle organic waste into byproducts like compost, mulch and biofuel.

Keller-Heckman provided the board with a timeline that included tasks for HWMA, Recology and local jurisdictions to implement S.B. 1383's organic waste processing. And while it appears it may be years before Humboldt County residents have the convenience of curbside pickup, those looking to reduce their climate impacts have some local options for their food waste in the meantime.

On the waste management's end, HWMA will need to amend its current Joint Powers Authority Agreement with its member agencies, complete the organic waste sorting facility modifications and improvements by soliciting construction bids and finding funding sources, develop a new rate structure to include organic waste, issue a request for proposals for organics processing and enter into a contract with the selected organization for organic waste byproducts.

Keller-Heckman said some of HWMA's tasks will be contingent on other work. For example, HWMA will be releasing a request for proposals for organic waste processing and transportation, with the contracted entity then overseeing the transportation of HWMA's organic waste after it is dropped off at its organic waste sorting facility (the former Eureka Recycling Center) and taken to the processing facility where it will be transformed into organic waste by-products like compost, mulch or biofuel. The HWMA board will need to decide the length of the contract under the RFP, specify its preference for an in-county or out-of-county processing facility and consider the possibility of entering into multiple contracts, according to Keller-Heckman.

If the board prioritizes keeping the recovery process in-county, HWMA would need to develop an organic waste recovery facility.

The board is expected to receive a draft request for proposals for the transportation and processing of organic waste from HWMA staff at the next meeting on Feb. 9.

S.B. 1383 required California cities to begin collection service by passing enforceable local ordinances by 2022 or face a fine of $10,000 per day from the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). Humboldt County cities and jurisdictions, however, submitted "a letter of intent to comply" to CalRecycle, which gave them an extended deadline to start services because there isn't any infrastructure in the area to support organic waste collection and edible food recovery services yet. Most Humboldt County cities and jurisdictions have received a "Corrective Action Plan," a list of tasks with deadlines to meet S.B. 1383 requirements.

The Fortuna, Rio Dell and Arcata city councils have passed organic ordinances, while a Humboldt County ordinance has been introduced to the Board of Supervisors. Meanwhile, Eureka, Blue Lake, Trinidad and Ferndale haven't introduced an ordinance but are expected to do so in the coming months.

On the jurisdictional implementation side of S.B. 1383, cities will need to review the JPA amendment language with HWMA, approve and designate "flow control" of organic waste materials going to HWMA (essentially a system to guarantee their organic waste goes to HWMA for further processing), finalize ordinances and renegotiate and amend their franchise agreements with their curbside collection company — Recology Humboldt, in most cases.

In the meantime, the Humboldt County Public Works Department has agreed to take the lead in implementing the edible-food recovery portion of S.B. 1383 for the region and is looking to hire a firm to develop an edible food recovery capacity and compliance assessment plan, as well as a public outreach and education plan. It will also create a food recovery communication and tracking system for entities that generate edible food and recovery organizations like food pantries and nonprofits, as well as compile record keeping and inspection reports to be submitted to CalRecycle. At the same time, the department will identify budget and long-term funding strategies for edible food recovery.

During a recent Solid Waste Local Task Force meeting, Humboldt County Public Works employee Jennifer Weiss said the consulting group would also hire someone to oversee the edible food recovery program and work with the food generators and Humboldt County Environmental Health. That person will inspect food for the program, while educating stakeholders on S.B. 1383 food recovery compliance for a year, with the caveat that the position could be extended or turned into a permanent one with the county.

Weiss said she hopes to send out requests for proposals by the beginning of February.

Within the last month, several city councils throughout Humboldt have submitted signed letters of commitment and support, stating they commit to participating in the county's regional effort to develop the food program and will provide a proportional share of the cost (based on city's population) to hire the consulting firm. The city of Fortuna, for example, has committed $11,000 to this effort, while Arcata has committed about $16,500.

Humboldt County Public Works Director Thomas Mattson said at the SWLTF meeting the county counsel is pushing back on the letters of commitment from local cities and would rather see a memorandum of understanding before sending out the requests for proposals. According to Mattson, county counsel feels the letters of commitment are generally used for short-term projects, not long-term ones like implementing a point person for the county's food recovery program.

Mattson told the Journal that because this edible food recovery position — now required by law — will be around longer, county counsel wants to see a stronger commitment in the form of an MOU. Mattson said his intent is to move the county's progress forward with the letters of commitment now and later finalize an MOU to meet county counsel's demands. A request for proposals for the county's edible food recovery position will be released soon, as it is a vital next step for S.B. 1383 implementation.

"Based on our deadline and how far we all are behind, it's very important that we keep clicking these milestones and this is a big one for us to click for Cal Recycle," Mattson said.

It will probably take a couple of years before the county has fully implemented S.B. 1383 but, in the meantime, residents looking to help reduce food waste and methane emissions can compost at home or subscribe to a local food waste collection program.

The Local Worm Guy offers residential curbside food waste pickup in Trinidad, Westhaven, McKinleyville, Fieldbrook, Blue Lake, Arcata and Eureka on a subscription basis. If you subscribe to the Local Worm Guy, you'll receive a 5-gallon bucket to throw food scraps in that will be picked up on a weekly basis. Subscriptions cost $30 per month for Eureka and Trinidad customers, or $20 per month for biweekly pickups. For customers in Blue Lake, Arcata and McKinleyville, subscriptions cost $25 per month or $15 per month for biweekly pickups. For more information, go to

Meanwhile, in Arcata, Full Cycle Compost offers a worker-owned bicycle composting service in which the company will pick up your food waste bin and cycle it to participating community gardens, like Centro del Pueblo's Jardin Santuario, to turn it into compost. Full Cycle Compost offers three rates for food waste pickup and one drop-off service: The economy rate is $6.50 per week; the pay-it-forward rate is $9.50 per week (in which $3 goes toward the income equity rate, which costs $4.50 for qualified low-income customers); and, finally, the drop-off rate of $4 per week under which customers are able to drop off their food waste to a composting bin at the community garden. For more information, go to

Iridian Casarez (she/her) is a staff writer at the Journal. Reach her at (707) 442-1400, extension 317, or

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Iridian Casarez

Iridian Casarez was a staff writer at the North Coast Journal from 2019-2023.

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