Long Beach trash and recycling rates could more than double as the city works to meet a state law that will require organic yard waste and food scraps be diverted from landfills to help reduce the amount of methane that is released into the atmosphere.

The city is not expected to meet the current deadline to implement its program by January 2022, but once it does it could double refuse and recycling rates “at minimum,” Erin Rowland, the city’s waste diversion officer, said Tuesday.

Residential rates in the city are currently $28.99, but the additions the city would likely have to make, such as purchasing additional trucks, bins and paying to have refuse transported to special facilities to be processed, will lead to price increases, city staff told the City Council during a study session Tuesday afternoon.

Senate Bill 1383 was signed into law in September 2016 as state legislators sought to reduce the pollution created by organic waste ending up in landfills. The law came with a January 2022 enforcement date but no funding for cities and other agencies to implement the program.

While significant infrastructure exists in the northern part of the state to process these kinds of organic materials, Southern California currently lacks options for facilities that can process both food scraps and yard waste.

Diko Melkonian, the city’s deputy director of the Environmental Services Bureau, said that the city is working to find a facility that can handle both kinds of materials so it can avoid having to issue two new cans to residents, which could also require double the amount of new truck routes to pick up the different materials.

There are currently sites like the Los Angeles County Sanitation District site in Carson that processes food scraps using anerobic digestion to create compressed natural gas for vehicles, but it cannot process yard waste.

“We want to avoid that. I personally don’t see that as a solution for us,” Melkonian said. “That’s a lot to ask for residents.”

Council members expressed frustration that the state could have passed a law that will require major investments from cities with no financial help. Councilwoman Suzie Price said it was concerning that the state passed an unfunded mandate and said it’s like the city has been “set up to fail.”

The city could find a little wiggle room in a separate Senate bill that would allow cities that have shown a “reasonable effort” to implement the diversion program to avoid penalties from the state until January 2023. Senate Bill 619 is currently working its way through the state Assembly’s committee process.

Once the program goes into effect residents and businesses will be required to separate out organic waste as well as fibers like paper and cardboard. A city ordinance is expected to come back to the council by the end of the year and it’s likely to include fines, which could range from $50 to $500, according to the state law.

Councilwoman Suely Saro acknowledged the challenges facing the city but said that addressing climate change is important, especially given methane’s ability to trap more heat than carbon dioxide.

“We don’t have money,” Saro said. “But that has never stopped us before from doing anything.”

Trash ‘smoothies’ could be future sources of fuel, but cities first need a plan to process organic waste

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.