LA County adopts sustainable waste management roadmap

By Katie Fletcher | November 24, 2014

On Oct. 21, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to adopt a Roadmap to a Sustainable Waste Management Future. This roadmap has been developed by the L.A. County Department of Public Works in coordination with several other entities since April. The roadmap lays out a general framework for strategies and initiatives aimed at decreasing reliance on landfills in the Los Angeles County region.

“We are currently drafting implementation plans for those initiatives identified as our first priorities in the roadmap, including an Organics Management Plan,” said Bob Spencer, chief of public affairs at L.A. County Department of Public Works.

The four strategies set forth in the roadmap are programs and services, measuring results, facilities and infrastructure, and outreach and education. Currently about 2.8 million tons of trash is generated annually in the unincorporated communities of the county, approximately 70 percent of which is diverted from disposal through a number of existing waste reduction, reuse and recycling programs.

Landmark environmental laws have significantly impacted this waste management system. These include, Assembly Bill 32, California’s landmark greenhouse gas reduction law, and AB 341, which requires 75 percent of waste generated in California to be source reduced, recycled or composted by 2020. By 2025 the county has the long-term disposal reduction target of 80 percent, and by 2045 the goal is 95 percent or more, which is equivalent to disposing of no more than 0.75 pounds of waste per person per day.

Another piece of impactful legislation is AB 1826, which requires a business that generates a certain threshold of organic waste per week to separate the organic waste to divert it from landfills by processing it another way.

One of these processing options is anaerobic digestion. There are currently no AD facilities in L.A. County that are open to the public. One of the challenges is siting, primarily due to permitting regulations and ensuring favorable economics, but legislation like AB 1826 can help overcome these challenges.

Two other pieces of related California Legislation the Governor signed into law this year, include Senate Bill 498, which provides equity for biomass conversion projects that use noncombustion technologies to make energy or fuel from biomass waste, and AB 1594, which phases out the diversion credit for green waste used as alternative daily cover at landfills in California.

According to the California Energy Commission, there are 22 digesters and 27 thermal biomass facilities in the state. “For materials that are not reduced, reused or recycled, conversion technologies, including anaerobic digestion, are important options for recovering energy, fuels, chemicals and other useful products from materials that might otherwise be disposed,” Spencer said. “The roadmap includes program and policy options that can help promote these environmentally preferable alternatives for reducing landfill disposal.”

An initial assessment was conducted by the working group that prepared the roadmap that showed the county as a whole will need as many as 35 facilities the size of the digester in San Jose, a 250 ton-per-day facility, in order to manage the organic waste in L.A. County currently being sent to landfills.

Locations of 16 proposed conversion technologies sites are identified for L.A. County. One project is proposed to be located in the City of Carson at the Joint Water Pollution Control Plant owned by the County Sanitation District. CSD and Waste Management have partnered on the proposed project to roll out a food waste digestion project at the plant. The project began as a pilot project utilizing CSD’s existing wastewater treatment digesters and 84 tons per day of preconsumer food waste supplied by WM. After two to three years of demonstration, CSD and WM will determine if continued partnership will be pursued. Another potential AD opportunity for organic waste management is being explored at the City of Avalon’s Pebbly Beach Landfill on Catalina Island. The City of Avalon is currently pursuing a major renovation of their wastewater treatment system and secondary water supply system. AD could be part of this new system. The city has yet to make a decision regarding the development of a Request for Proposal for a small conversion technology facility at the landfill.

“The roadmap provides a lot of advantages in organizing an approach to shifting our waste management system towards a sustainable future,” Spencer said. “We have made many great strides in advancing waste reduction, recycling and other diversion practices, and this roadmap will build on those successes. The key challenges are effectively communicating the roadmap strategies, ensuring buy in as the roadmap is implemented and directing the right resources to make the effort a success.”

The “Roadmap to a Sustainable Waste Management Future” can be found here.