California’s ambitious and expensive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from landfills may itself be headed for the trash heap.

A state oversight panel is recommending that California pause implementation of Senate Bill 1383, which requires cities and counties to offer organic waste recycling, because it is riddled with problems and falling short of its goals, according to a draft report provided to KTLA.

The law set benchmarks for reducing the amount of organic waste sent to landfills by 50% by 2020 and 75% by 2025, using 2014 as a baseline.

Instead, only about half of local governments are participating in the program and the amount of organic waste in landfills has actually increased in recent years, the Little Hoover Commission said in the draft.

A truck unloads organic waste to be used for composting at the Anaerobic Composter Facility in Woodland, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

“Despite the importance of diverting organic waste, the state not only missed its 2020 target but sent a million tons of organic waste above the 2014 baseline to landfills,” the report states. “To this point, there has been insufficient progress to make the 2025 goal realistic.”

SB 1383 passed and was signed into law in 2016 to reduce methane emissions, which have been linked to poor air quality, public health issues, and climate change. It didn’t fully take effect until January 2022, but the commission found only about half of California’s 540 local jurisdictions were prepared by then, despite the threat of $10,000 per day fines.

For their part, homeowners are asked to place food scraps, yard clippings, and other organic materials into bins that are collected along with regular trash and recycling, assuming their government offers the service. The material is then converted into products that can be used as compost or fuel.

Among the many hurdles to SB 1383’s success are cost and infrastructure, the report says.

For example, a $100 million anaerobic digester in Perris, California, took six years to permit and construct. The demands placed on rural communities, which produce very little organic waste compared to heavily populated areas, were not considered, commissioners said.

“Many rural communities lack curbside trash pickup (or curbs) and paved roads that can accommodate heavy garbage trucks. Instead, residents self-haul their refuse to local transfer stations.”

The panel also found very limited existing demand for processed organic waste, which lawmakers tried to address in 2016 by requiring local governments to purchase it from state facilities.

California recycling and trash bins
A row of bins for trash collection, recycling, and organic waste. (KTLA)

The panel is recommending that California temporarily pause SB 1383 until it can do a better job educating the public about its goals, create reasonable and clear guidelines for implementation, and carve out exemptions for “low-population, low-waste counties.”

CalRecycle, the agency that oversees the program, argues that pausing it -even temporarily- would be a big mistake.

“Holding and pausing (Senate Bill) 1383 would be absolutely, absolutely detrimental… We’ve spent nearly half a billion dollars in California to jump start 1383 in organic recycling and a lot of that would be halted,” Rachel Wagoner, director of CalRecycle, told the commission in May, according to CalMatters.

The panel says the problem doesn’t lie with the goals of SB 1383, but rather the current approach to implementing it.

“The state must reduce its landfill methane emissions, and it must do so in a way that is transparent, compatible with its larger climate strategy, and has the buy-in of the Californians it protects,” the report states.

The Little Hoover Commission’s final report is expected to be released in early June, its Executive Director, Ethan Rarick, told KTLA. State lawmakers will ultimately decide how to proceed.

The Commission is comprised of current and former state politicians and policy experts.