The Escondido anaerobic digester will convert organic waste to fertilizer for farms and natural gas for vehicles.
Del Mar doesn't have food waste pickup. But by next year, it will have to. And restaurants, hard hit by the pandemic, are sweating the new costs, from dumpsters to rodent control.
State regulations aimed at keeping organic waste out of landfills, along with the potent methane gas it emits, will require residents and businesses to recycle food scraps, landscape leftovers, non-hazardous wood waste and compostable paper.
The city will have to provide organics collections to all residents and businesses.
The small city now sends 3,200 tons of organic waste to the landfill each year, with yard waste the most prevalent type. But the food portion amounts to 3/4 of a ton of waste per person, not counting the fairgrounds.
"That's just an enormous amount," said Jessica Toth, executive director at Solana Center for Environmental Innovation, who is working with Del Mar to figure out how to meet state mandates on organics recycling.
Del Mar is out of compliance with a 2016 organics recycling law that applies to large commercial generators. Every year since the law took effect, it has applied to ever smaller businesses.
It's not just a Del Mar problem, according to Clem Brown, the city's sustainability manager. In fact, no city in San Diego is recycling its organic waste in full compliance with state regulations, he told the city council last week.
"There is a real lack of infrastructure to process the region's organic waste stream right now. Finding local organics recycling options will be critical."
Since the city's contract with its hauler, Waste Management, pre-dates new organics regulations, it doesn't facilitate full compliance with the state laws.
Waste Management has looked at potential future options in Poway and Lakeside and composting facilities in Otay or Oceanside - but "each has issues," Brown said.
Neighboring cities, however, are already finding their way. A new facility on the cusp of opening in Escondido will process organic waste, using an anaerobic digester to convert it to fertilizer for farms and natural gas for vehicles. Twelve cities are signed on.
The digester is the first of its kind in San Diego, Brown said.
Businesses and sustainability advocates are asking Del Mar not to extend their contract with Waste Management when it expires in June 2022, since it lacks local facilities for organic recycling, and must haul waste to Orange County.
They're hoping the city can get bids from EDCO and other haulers, which might provide lower rates.
Ann Feeney, vice chair of the Sustainability Advisory Board, commented that Solana Beach and Encinitas are among the cities that recently started residential curbside organic waste recycling and will soon start commercial organic waste recycling - because EDCO, their hauler, began building its anaerobic digester a few years ago.
"We need to be sure our next waste hauling contract will include sufficient organic waste recycling" to meet state law.