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New program reduces emissions by recycling food scraps

OCEANSIDE — A new recycling program that collects leftover food scraps from local businesses is helping the city to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and meet its zero waste goals.

In August of last year, the city partnered with Waste Management to launch its Food Scraps Recycling Program, which diverts food scraps from going to landfill.

The program has been in the making for several years after the state passed more aggressive mandates requiring businesses to divert organics from landfills. Oceanside’s program helps the city meet those requirements as well as its own zero waste goals, which set a goal of reaching a 75-90% waste diversion rate by 2020.

“We’re currently at 67%,” said Colleen Foster, the city’s environmental officer in the Water Utilities Department.

With the new food scraps program, Foster anticipates seeing that rate rise 8-10% in the next year.

Instead of throwing away food scraps — everything from meat, bones, dairy, fruits, vegetables and even food-soiled paper containers and towels — with the rest of the trash, those scraps go into a separate bin to be collected through the program.

When food scraps and other organics sit in a landfill, they generate methane gas, which is one of the most potent greenhouse gasses. By diverting organics and food scraps from the landfill, the methane gas production from those landfills is reduced.

Since the beginning of Oceanside’s program, more than 2,600 cubic yards of organics have been diverted from the landfill, which according to the Water Utilities Department is the equivalent of taking 940 cars off the road every month.

After food scraps are collected from businesses, they are taken to a wastewater facility in Los Angeles where they are processed and turned into renewable energy that fuels the facility. Since the program started, more than 1,500 cubic yards of food scraps have been processed into renewable energy.

So far, more than 1,000 Oceanside businesses have received food scraps recycling services from the program, which is more than San Diego has reached according to Foster.

More than 73% of those businesses saw overall cost savings by reducing how much trash they produce.

“We financially incentivize recycling and food scraps recycling by setting lower rates,” Foster said. “The food scraps rate is 75% and the recycling rate is 50% of the trash rate.”

The city even waited to roll out the program, which was originally planned for March, due to COVID-19 and the financial pressure it put on businesses.

“Fortunately before COVID we had set rates in such a way that this program was a benefit to many businesses,” Foster said. “When we decided to finally roll it out, we were able to help businesses save money.”

The program also helps the city prepare for the state’s next mandate going into effect at the beginning of 2022 when residents will also be required to divert food scraps. The city is currently looking to contract other collection service agencies that can help the city meet this new mandate.

To help refresh businesses about what items go into each recycling bin, as well as ways to avoid contamination and find other cost savings, the city is inviting businesses to watch its first webinar called “Back to the Basics: Food Scraps Recycling 101.” The first of what Fosters to be several virtual webinars will be held on Jan. 25 from 12 to 12:30 p.m. via

To further help businesses succeed in recycling food scraps, the city has even visited sites to perform walkthroughs and analyses of how businesses are recycling and offer advice on what they could improve. Such training can also be provided virtually as well.