The city of Burbank started collecting yard waste in 1993. In that 27-year timespan, Burbank’s Public Works Department has collected an average of 18,000 tons of yard clippings per year. That “waste” is hauled off to landfills when it could be composted and used to return nutrients back into the city’s soil, according to Kreigh Hampel, recycling coordinator at Burbank Recycling.
Hampel runs a variety of community engagement events for the Burbank Recycling Center including the UC Master Gardeners workshop. These master gardener volunteers come from all over Los Angeles County to promote sustainable horticultural practices in the home and public landscapes.
“Our cities can be garden cities. We can live in garden neighborhoods. We can be producing so much food right where we live, work and play,” said Hampel.
Burbank has a three-bin system color coded with blue, green and black bins for each household. Recyclables are designated to the blue bin. Yard clippings including, grass, leaves, wood chips and weeds go in the green bin. Everything else ends up in the black bin.
In total, the city collects 60,000 tons of waste per year from all three bins across every household. This number does not include the private waste management sector responsible for business disposal, which accounts for an added 60,000 tons of waste per year, according to Hampel.
Trash tossed into the curbside bins is the first stop on the circuitous journey our disposals take every single day. The green waste trapped inside the bins help soil become more nutritious and water absorbent turning soil into black gold. According to the CalRecycle.gov, recyclable organic waste accounts for about 40% of all the materials California sends to landfills each year. Out of the 40% of organic material that sits in landfills, 30% could be used for compost or mulch.
“There’s a huge scramble in California right now. There are state mandates requiring all jurisdictions to get organics out of landfills and start providing organic collection and processing services,” said Hampel.
The California Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989 triggered strict waste management laws throughout the state and set aggressive goals for businesses and multifamily residences to implement commercial solid waste recycling programs.
In 2014, California tightened its laws even further with the State Law AB 1826, which mandates all business and multifamily properties to recycle their solid waste as well as organic waste beginning April 1, 2016.
To divert the estimated 7,000-8,000 pounds of organics (food and yard waste) from landfills, Hampel says it takes behavioral change and policy to stop industrializing the movement of thousands of tons of waste. This is the time for community gardeners and steadfast composters to turn the tide.
“I want to elevate gardeners as restoration biologists,” said Hampel.
“Our own yards can be great ecologies. We have greywater that we can put into our yards, and we have a lot of nutrients that are coming out of our houses. There is really no reason not to look at our cities as garden cities and living ecologies,” said Hampel.