Visalia council seeks environmental green light on code changes

Visalia City Council approves first reading to change their municipal code to follow state regulations that preserves food and cuts down on harmful landfill emissions

VISALIA – Visalia is changing one of their city codes in order to catch up with requirements from CalRecycle. The state’s new requirements are intended to prevent the waste of organic materials, like food, from going to waste and harming the environment.

Visalia is following along the same path of many cities in California who must conform to Senate Bill (SB) 1383. Passed in 2016 the law seeks to reduce the environmental impact from methane emissions by cutting down on the amount of organic waste making its way to landfills. At the Visalia council meeting on Sept. 6, members gave the green light for staff with the city’s public works department to update the current code. 

Instead of creating a whole new chapter to add to the code, city staff decided to change the current code by incorporating regulations that relate directly to edible food recovery. According to Jason Serpa, public works manager for the city of Visalia, the item will be brought back to the next council meeting on Sept. 19 for final approval.

According to CalRecycle, a branch of the California Environmental Protection Agency that manages waste management, recycling and waste reduction programs for the state, the bill is a way to reduce organic waste from food and, additionally, address food insecurity issues in the state. SB 1383 has regulations in place that require California to recover 20% of edible food that would otherwise be dumped at landfills by 2025. The type of food being recovered can be packaged food as well as fruits and vegetables that might have minor damage, like marks and bruises. The law establishes that jurisdictions, such as cities and counties, must put food recovery programs in place and strengthen any existing food recovery networks.

“The reason why [CalRecycle] wants to make it a regulation is because SB 1383’s purpose is to keep methane emissions down,” Serpa said. “Methane’s number one producer is food going to the landfill. [CalRecycle] can keep a lot more edible food out of the landfill, and get it to people that can actually use the edible food. Then, of course, the end result is that it doesn’t end up in a landfill.”

Visalia has already taken a step to ensure the code is adhering to SB 1383 regulations on edible food recovery by identifying “Tier One” edible food generators. Tier one food generators are places like supermarkets, grocery stores and food distributors, who must follow the bill’s requirements to have contracts or signed agreements with food recovery organizations they are donating to. This is so the city, and CalRecycle, can keep record of these food generators when it comes to food donations and ensure how much food is diverted from landfills, according to Nathan Garza, conservation technician with the city of Visalia. According to Serpa, enforcement for potential penalties against the bill’s regulations will start on Jan. 1, 2024.

According to Garza, most local food generators that fall under tier one classifications already have programs in place when it comes to donating food to local food recovery sites. 

“A lot of them were doing this already by donating food that’s still edible for human consumption to local food recovery sites,” Garza said.

These recovery sites are places like the Central California Food Bank, Emergency Aid Food Pantry, Bethlehem Center Visalia, Visalia Rescue Mission and FoodLink for Tulare County.

Until the requirements are fully in place, the city will adhere to SB 1383’s requirement of conducting education and outreach about organic recycling to all residents, businesses and any organization affected by the bill, according to Serpa. He said tier one organizations will be informed by receiving a letter regarding the situation, so staff can answer any questions or handle any concerns the organizations might have. Additionally, Serpa said the information will also be included in a Visalia Chamber of Commerce newsletter, it will be available on the city’s social media sites and it is also accessible through the city’s website.

Additionally, SB 1383 has requirements for tier two food generators who will also have to keep record of food donations made to food recovery organizations. According to the updated Visalia municipal code, food generators classified in tier two are places like restaurants that either seat 250 or more people or have a facility size that equals or surpasses 5,000 square feet; hotels with 200 or more rooms and onsite food facilities; health facilities with 100 or more beds and an on-site food facility; state agencies with 250 or more seats and a cafeteria facility size of 5,000 square feet or greater; local education agencies like school distict with an on-site food facility; and large venues that seat and serve over 2,000 people per day on venue grounds. Venue facilities include, but are not limited to, public nonprofit or privately owned stadiums, amphitheaters, arenas, amusement parks, zoos, aquariums, museums and others. 

Similarly to venues, tier two qualifications also apply to large events, like sporting events and flea markets that charge admission fees, as well as public, nonprofit and privately owned parks, parking lots, golf courses, street systems and other open spaces being used for events.

An additional goal of SB 1383 is to cut down on other organic waste currently going to landfills, including things like paper, cardboard, food scraps, food soiled paper, yard trimmings and all other organic-based waste. According to CalRecycle, these organics are what make up half of California’s landfills and reducing them will have the quickest impact on climate crisis. Additionally, the organic waste emits up to 20% of the state’s methane levels, which is a super pollutant to the climate 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It also emits air pollutants like particulate matter 2.5, which are fine particles or droplets in the air that can contribute to health conditions like asthma.

The final rulemaking for SB 1383 came about in November 2020, with the final text of regulations being published in February 2021.

Additionally, as another way to make good use of organic recycling, Garza said the city of Visalia also makes compost from food no longer fit for human consumption. The organic waste goes to local compost facilities, like Visalia Waste Management and WC Wood Industries, and is turned into compost that interested residents can use for gardening. The compost is given away six times a year at the city’s Dump On Us event, which the next event is set to take place on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 335 N Cain St in Visalia.

Start typing and press Enter to search