1/12/20: Talking Trash

Happy New Year! I hope you’re feeling energized to tackle 2020. I sure am.

Are you up for some trash talk? The management of rubbish, green materials, recyclables, compostables and organics is a public policy issue that I’m going to focus on more in this new decade. 

Large challenges like how to manage waste (or to put it more positively, “resource recovery”) can’t be dealt with simply by encouraging virtuous individual behavior choices. Our healthy future will require systems designed for a more sustainable existence.

And state laws have and are changing to accomplish this. This year Californians are supposed to divert half of all food waste out of landfills, and by 2025 California must boost organic recycling by 75%. 

In Escondido, EDCO operates one of the newest recycling facility in the United States, which I toured back in 2018. Pictured above are (from left) me, EDCO President and CEO Steve South, and Encinitas City Manager Karen Brust.Near the end of last year, the City of Encinitas received a letter from CalRecycle, the state’s recycling arm, asking for an update on our compliance with “AB-1826: Mandatory Commercial Organics Recycling.”

According to the letter, the city is required to be rolling out a commercial food waste collection program, delivering bins, updating the franchise agreement with our waste hauler EDCO, producing an educational campaign and having a plan to minimize contamination and maximize commercial food waste recovery. EDCO is currently building the county’s first organics “anaerobic digester” that’s designed to process food and green waste. Here’s more information about that, and the illustration below details the process.

The state also asked us for an alternate food waste processing facility if the EDCO facility were to be delayed beyond 2021. The letter mentions that there are food waste processing facilities in Riverside, Orange, Los Angeles, and San Bernadino. All of those locations are far away from Encinitas, not even in our county. We should be managing our own food waste here in San Diego County – not trucking it more than a hundred miles away for disposal. 

According to our climate action plan, the methane from green and food waste is one of Encinitas’ top generators of greenhouse gas emissions. According to CalRecycle, nearly a fifth of landfills is filled with food waste. 

The bottom line is that we need to spend energy and time in 2020 on local and regional solutions. 

An important point frequently made by Encinitas resident and Solana Center Executive Director Jessica Toth is that we need to change our habits of high consumption and high waste. If we approach organics the same way we’ve addressed recycling, we’ll face high levels of contamination that will invalidate the effort because the material ends up in landfills (or the ocean) anyway. We don’t want the systemic problems with food and green waste that we’ve had with recycling.

Here’s an article on “wish-cycling” entitled, “Are you an Aspirational Recycler? Here are 9 Things You Actually Can’t Recycle.” 

The chart above illustrates ways that food waste can be dealt with, from best to worst.

Trash-related policy is obviously complex because it starts with the products that we manufacture and buy, and ends with how we manage the trash we’ve created. Interrelated state, federal and market-driven forces and standards are primary drivers. 

And there are very real land-use challenges that would be associated with solutions such as opening a local compost location in Encinitas. Currently there isn’t an applicant trying to make this happen.

Despite this, there are compelling city-wide and regional opportunities. I’m on a board called RSWA, or Regional Solid Waste Association, which has elected members from seven cities (Encinitas, Del Mar, Solana Beach, Escondido, Poway, Vista and National City). We currently meet just quarterly, four times a year.

RSWA was born 23 years ago out of a series of disputes and decisions with the county related to trash management. The complete origin story is here, if you’re interested.

This past week, the RSWA board took my recommendation that we consider updating the mission, vision and purpose of RSWA to deal more proactively with our current challenges and requirements regarding recycling, trash and green waste, with a specific focus on the state mandates in AB-1826 and SB-1383.

I believe we have great potential in this organization, which already exists and contains policymakers who represent seven out of 18 cities in this county. The board represents populations that are geographically and politically diverse. Not every city has a climate action plan like Encinitas does (Poway, for instance, doesn’t), but every city is required to follow state law. Solutions with consistent messaging across jurisdictions and a more uniform approach are destined to be more successful.  

After a meaningful and wide-ranging discussion, I was appointed to a subcommittee with Vista Councilmember Joe Green and National City Councilmember Ron Morrison (a founding member of the organization and chair of RSWA for the last 11 years) to determine the next steps for how to update what the board is aiming to accomplish. We may investigate what other joint power authorities and regional organizations have determined to be their missions, and use those as a starting point. 

Other parts of California seem to be further along than San Diego County when it comes to recycling green and food waste, and I’m enthused about helping our city and county move forward on this crucial need.  
 
We all count

When my husband Jeremy and I helped with the Point-in-Time count three years ago, we were using the paper method of marking the location and numbers of homeless people in Encinitas.

Please join me and sign up for the WeAllCount Point-in-Time homeless count, from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. Thursday morning, January 23. 

This year, we’re using new GPS technology to specifically pinpoint where people are living, and providing for better real-time data. No more pencils and paper on a map. 

The count is important because it’s hard to solve a problem that we don’t quantify or understand. This annual nationwide count of the unsheltered is a key data point in helping to create solutions. 

There’s still a big need for volunteers in North County. Sign up here to participate!

Happiness is volunteering

Have you noticed that there seems to be a new spirit of volunteerism in the air lately? If you’d like to be a part of it by volunteering yourself, or if you need volunteers, check out this great non-profit organization: JustServe.org.

They say it best: “Service strengthens the community and offers incredible benefits of health and well-being, and for that reason, many in our community seek out volunteer opportunities, only to discover that finding such is a challenge.

“The genius of this powerful tool is that for volunteers, JustServe.org and its app address the problem of identifying where and how to serve.  And for organizations who rely on volunteers, it addresses their need of finding volunteers.  It’s a true win-win for the whole community!”

Bluff stabilization funds may be on their way

About $900,000 for our bluff stabilization project is moving forward in the appropriations process in Washington D.C., as the budget is being put together.

This project would add sand to our beaches and help shore up our cliffs, including in the Leucadia area where the bluff tragically collapsed and killed three residents last summer.

Thank you to our Congressman Mike Levin and other members of the California delegation for continuing to champion this project. We are all working hard to get it accomplished.

Bikes, scooters and skates rule downtown Encinitas today!

Have you always wanted to take a photo underneath the iconic Encinitas sign that goes across the highway, but there’s been too much traffic? Now’s your chance!

I’m excited about the city’s first Cyclovia, which will open our downtown Coast Highway 101 for people to travel without cars today (Sunday) from 10-2 p.m. Bring your scooter, bike or skates and enjoy our downtown car-free. It should be a blast, and I hope there are many more Cyclovias to come. Here’s more information.   

Safe Parking community meeting this Tuesday

A controversial issue in Encinitas right now is the proposal for a 25-spot safe parking lot where people can sleep when they’ve lost their homes, but still own a car. At the lot they are provided the help needed to get back into housing and improve their situation before they fall into street homelessness.

The city is hosting a forum to provide the public with information about the proposal this coming Tuesday, January 14 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Encinitas Community Center, 1140 Oakcrest Park Drive. City staff will present information on the proposed program and answer questions. You can learn more about the forum here and information about the Safe Parking lot and how it will be operated is here.

I’m tremendously grateful for the leadership and helping spirit of the Leichtag Foundation and Jewish Family Services, who put this proposal together. There could not be two more exemplary organizations. The City Council will make a final decision on the proposal at our meeting on January 22.  

I’ll leave you with the wisdom of a Latin phrase favored by former Governor Jerry Brown that made an impression on me: Age Quod Agis. It’s sage advice, meaning “Do what you are doing” – in other words, fully commit to your roles and activities. Don’t get distracted with minutia. 

In full commitment,