Cities’ Exclusive Agreements With Trash Collectors Are Holding Back Community Composters

Date: 27 Apr 2022 | posted in: Composting | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

In this episode, ILSR’s Jess Del Fiacco and Brenda Platt talk to guests Sarah Boltwala-Mesina, Monique Figueiredo, and Kourtnii Brown, three community composters in California who have been impacted by solid waste franchise districts. Solid waste franchise districts are waste collection zones that a municipality or county has assigned to one or more contractors on an exclusive basis to provide collection services for trash and recycling. As the system typically only allows large companies to compete to win a zone, smaller competitors are kept out of the playing field. 

Sarah is the Executive Director of Inika Small Earth Inc., which operates Food2Soil, a community composting collective in San Diego; Monique is the founder of Compostable LA, a food scrap collector in Los Angeles; and Kourtnii Brown is the co-founder and CEO of the California Alliance for Community Composting and runs Common Compost, a community composting operation in Oakland. 

Highlights include: 

  • How exclusive franchise agreements award the right to charge for collection service to just one exclusive operation for a decade or more, preventing micro haulers from accessing the marketplace. 
  • The constraints these franchise districts have put on the viability and growth of community composters’ operations, and the creative ways some have navigated the agreements in order to build successful businesses. 
  • How cities could change contracts to better support small-sized composting and recycling operations (such as through carve outs) and help them grow. 

“Here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance we are clearly opposed to cities and counties using their contract authority to foster monopoly control by just a handful of large companies.” – Brenda Platt

“My entire business plan and the development of this company has been specifically built with franchise agreements in mind. And in some ways, it’s really stunted our growth. ” – Monique Figueiredo

“Since we were not a franchise hauler, we were kind of kept out of … the doors were shut on us, in terms of being able to operate. And by operate, I mean collect for a fee, as well as compost. Because even the ability to compost materials that were generated offsite, meaning not on the same property that you were composting, even that was just mired in regulations, and it was just very nebulous to interpret.” – Sarah Boltwala-Mesina

“I concluded that onsite recovery operations would be the only way to scale our impact and get around this. So we just ditched the idea of hauling completely. It was too much to handle.” – Kourtnii Brown

Mallory Szczepanski, Waste360Commercial Franchise Zones Explained, January 25, 2017.

New York City Department of Sanitation, Commercial Waste Zones: A Plan to Reform, Reroute, and Revitalize Private Carting in New York City, 2018.

LA County Residential Franchise System

Greggory Moore, Random Lengths NewsHauling Green Waste for Compost Is a Legal Gray Area in Long Beach, October 10, 2020

Palm Springs Sustainability Commission’s Standing Subcommittee on Waste Reduction Meeting, July 1, 2021

The Sustainable Economies Law Center’s Soil Policy Party Curriculum and Legal Guide to Community Composting (with examples from Alameda County)

CalRecycle’s Model Franchise Agreement and Webinar (Scope of Contract terms starting at min 34)

ILSR’s Hierarchy to Reduce Food Waste & Grow Community

Food2Soil’s Model Franchise Agreement and Model Solid Waste Ordinance enhanced for community composting.

Food2Soil’s story of Temecula, California’s first community compost pile.

Food2Soil’s The Supermaze of Regulations Preventing Community Composting.


Brenda Platt: Across the country, the community composting movement is growing. Local composting provides communities, immediate opportunities for reducing waste, improving local soil, creating jobs and fighting climate change. You’re listening to the Composting for Community Podcast, where we bring you stories from the people doing this work on the ground and in the soil.
Brenda Platt: Hi friends. Welcome back to the Composting for Community Podcast. I’m your host, Brenda Platt, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s composting for community initiative. In this episode, we discuss the challenges, solid waste franchise agreements are posing to community composters. I am joined by my colleague, Jess Del Fiacco, ILSR’s communications manager, as well as three community composters in California. Welcome everybody. Let’s start by having of you introduce yourselves.
Sarah Boltwala-…: My name is Sarah Boltwala-Mesina, and I’m with Food2Soil, a community composting collective in San Diego, California.
Monique Figueir…: Hey, my name is Monique Figueiredo. I’m the founder, co-owner and CEO of Compostable LA, which is a composting company in Los Angeles, California.
Kourtnii Brown: Hi, my name is Kourtnii Brown. Thanks for having me. I am the founder of Common Compost in Oakland, California, focusing on composting with worms.
Jess Del Fiacco: Great, thank you guys so much. And again, we’re so happy to have you here. I am going to hand things over to Brenda to give us a little background on what exactly is solid waste franchise district is.
Brenda Platt: All right. Thanks. We’re so glad you’re all ad joining us today. Thanks Jess. So a solid waste franchise district is basically a commercial residential waste collection zone or a specific area that a city or county has assigned to one or more contractors on an exclusive basis. So to provide collection services for trash, recycling. They’re very common on the West Coast, but they’re growing in other cities as well. And the system typically only allows large companies to compete to win a zone. That is what has happened in the West Coast and in California, particularly. And as a result, cities and counties have systematically kept micro haulers or micro recyclers, and composters, like the three operations we are joined with today, they’ve kept them out of the playing field. And the industry is somewhat split on whether to support the concept or not.
Brenda Platt: Here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we don’t have a formal position on solid waste franchise districts, but we are clearly opposed to cities and counties using their contract authority to foster monopoly control by just a handful of large companies. And if you take, like we’ll get into it in Los Angeles, but Los Angeles, not too long ago, divided their city into something like 11 solid waste zones to seven companies. And it was worth three and a half billion dollars. So three and a half billion was given to just companies. That’s an average of $500 million each. That’s just nuts.
Brenda Platt: And so what happens when you are just giving all that money and control to just a handful of large companies, you’re really shutting out social enterprises, other community benefit operations. And what we’re finding is that community posters like Food2Soil, Compostable LA and Common Compost, are one of the fastest growing parts of the circular economy, these small scale businesses. Whether you’re collecting food scraps or doing reuse, repair, recycling, community benefit operations are really growing and can be fostered. But these solid waste franchise districts can be an obstacle. So when I say that the industry is split on whether to support the concept or not, I don’t think we have too much of a split with our guests today. So I want to hear, maybe we should start by telling us before we get into the problems with solid waste districts, let’s little bit about more of what each of you do. So Sarah, let’s start with you. Tell us about Food2Soil and what you’re doing in San Diego, and then we can get into how these solid waste districts are impacting your ability to thrive.
Sarah Boltwala-…: Yeah. Yeah. So Food2Soil started in 2015. For the first two years, we were operating in what’s called a gray zone, a gray area. We were a loophole in the city’s municipal solid waste ordinance. And there were revisions that were eventually made to the solid waste ordinance. We played an active part in crafting those revisions. And today, Food2Soil is a collective of residents, restaurants, community gardens, urban farms that has established this robust network of drop off hubs all over the county, mostly in the city of San Diego, but all over the county, where we have residents drop off their scraps with us and then we compost it for them. They pay us a fee for the composting service.
Sarah Boltwala-…: And in this process, we have this decentralized network that has made composting accessible for many residents and small businesses who otherwise would not have access to this service. And we’ve also created an income opportunity for the composters who are part of the Food2Soil team. So the soil farmers, as we call them, are people who operate compost hubs for their neighborhoods, sometimes out of as small of a space as their backyard. And it’s as large as community gardens or urban farms. But all these soil farmers are earning an income from the composting fee that their neighbors are paying them for this service in their neighborhood. So that’s Food2Soil.
Brenda Platt: Monique, Compostable LA, tell us what you’re doing.
Monique Figueir…: Yeah. So Compostable LA focuses on food scrap collection. So we are going door to door, business to business, to collect food scraps, and then bringing them to one of our 11 partner farms within the city of LA to be turned into soil. So we’ve played around with some composting internally, but we really love this network of community composters that we’re fostering. Compostable LA has partnerships with LA Compost and TAWA Compost and LA Community Garden Council. And they’re all getting material from our members in this decentralized network. And while drop off sites are really, really, really awesome, and I love them, they don’t work for some people and some people need you to come to their door. And that is what we’re focusing on. LA Compost is an amazing job at managing drop off sites throughout the city, and we’re filling that other niche for people who just can’t get access to those.
Brenda Platt: Kourtnii, I know you not only run Common Compost in Oakland, but you’re the co-founder and CEO of the California Alliance for Community Composting. So tell us about Common Compost, and then I want to hear a little bit about the alliance too, since you represent so many other community composters in your state.
Kourtnii Brown: Yeah, absolutely. Common Compost right now is just focused on manufacturing community scale flow through worm composting bins. So we started out with our first prototype in 2016. We’re based out of Oakland and we mainly focus on local projects here in Alameda County. But we’ve also launched systems in San Francisco, Santa Barbara and greater Los Angeles counties as well. And we provide onsite composting solutions for food banks, community centers, schools, gardens, and community farms. So it helps them turn any other leftover food with, whether that be during crop production or post-consumer, and turn it into a valuable product vermicompost, to help regenerate the soils and sustain local food production. So it’s been very fun, the projects we’ve been able to build and install.
Kourtnii Brown: And as you mentioned, I also helped to co-found a California Alliance for Community Composting with [inaudible 00:08:44] guidance from both the Sustainable Economies Law Center and you, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and Sarah was actually very integral in the beginning stages of this organization as well.
Kourtnii Brown: And what we’re doing is working to ensure the viability of community composting in general, across the state of California. So we’re comprised of a group of community based organizations, each of which has grappled with some various facets of compost law and policy about the state and the local level. So we come together and we conduct collective policy advocacy that helps strengthen, protect, and allows us to develop these small and medium scale community composting projects. And we also work to empower the composters alongside the communities they serve by offering them training in policy advocacy, in providing one pagers that can help with them going to city councils and negotiating carve outs for their specific operations. So it’s been a very exciting space to operate in as a collective. Makes you feel like you’re not alone.
Jess Del Fiacco: Thank you all for sharing. Let’s dive into the other side of things here. Could you each talk about how the franchise zone system in your county affects your operations and the services you can offer?
Sarah Boltwala-…: San Diego County is comprised of 18 jurisdictions, the two largest of them being the County of San Diego and the City of San Diego. All of these jurisdictions have some flavor of exclusivity in the way they invite or contract out the hauling services. The City of San Diego and the County of San Diego have what’s called a non-exclusive franchise, meaning that there is a list of approved franchise haulers can provide service in that zone or within the boundaries of the City of San Diego or the unincorporated county areas. And this list of franchise holders is basically, like Brenda said earlier on in the introduction of this podcast, these are large haulers. You have to have very deep pockets to be able to really get on this list of a franchise hauler. But once you’re on there, you can offer your services in the city, within the city boundaries and within the unincorporated areas.
Sarah Boltwala-…: The rest of the jurisdictions have what’s called an exclusive franchise contract, meaning that they have an agreement with just one hauler. They put it out to bid and then they select a winning bid. And that winning bid just goes to one hauler who, for whatever period of time, 10 years, 15 years, it usually has periods of extension that you can tack on after the initial period, the hauling service, the fee-based hauling services. And I stress on this word fee-based because that’s really the crucial point. The point is, can you charge fees for collecting solid waste, food scraps, recyclables. And that right to charge for the service for collection is given to just one exclusive operation, and that’s called the exclusive franchise agreement. So that’s the way the San Diego County system looks like.
Jess Del Fiacco: Thanks, Sarah. Monique, did you want to share?
Monique Figueir…: Sure. When I was looking to launch Compostable, I was informed that it may not be legal. And I was like, oh, well, that’s fun. So I had to work to find a loophole that it would allow me to grow this business because I knew my community needed it. There really wasn’t any kind of service operating in Los Angeles like this, and I’m from the East Coast originally where there’s plentiful. And really ,the past three years, as I’ve been building out this company, I would say the franchise agreements have most impacted me in terms of capacity building. It’s quite anxiety provoking and scary to invest in a company that could be shut down. Even if you know it’s intrinsically valuable, if it’s not legally validated by your city, you are hesitant in how much time, money, effort you put into a company that’s just something wise to do.
Monique Figueir…: And so my entire business plan and the development of this company has been specifically built with franchise agreements in mind. And in some ways, it’s really stunted our growth. The growth is there. People are very excited about it. Not only do they want a compost, but they want to compost with a local community based organization because there’s more trust and transparency there. And people are getting more and more interested in these small scale community based systems, and they want it for all aspects of their life, including their waste management services, even though a lot of us talk about how composting is not dealing with waste, but a resource. So I would say it’s really seeped into almost every aspect of my business as I think about how I’m growing it, what I’m saying, who I’m saying it to. It’s a very delicate landscape to navigate.
Jess Del Fiacco: Thank you. Kourtnii?
Kourtnii Brown: Yeah. Thanks Jess. I operate in the Bay Area and as you know, they’ve been source separating organics up here for over a decade. So I just want to mention that a lot of the attraction to an exclusive franchise agreement is because these cities have put a lot of work into establishing their zero waste goals. And their diversion targets of usually 75% by 2020. So in Alameda County, they passed a mandatory recycling ordinance in 2012 with this target in mind. And it first started to extend to include diverting plant debris and organics in 2014. And what this did is throughout the 17 cities in Alameda county, it required the jurisdiction to provide recycling and composting services for certain generators like commercial businesses, institutions, and multifamily buildings. And it had to be sufficient enough to handle the amount of recyclables and organics that those generators were producing.
Kourtnii Brown: So it’s very attractive for cities at this point to go and look for large scale service providers and that are capable of implementing large scale residential collection programs. In 2016, Oakland reached out to waste management of Alameda County and signed an exclusive franchise agreement with them with the collection of all solid waste and organics. They signed a separate contract with California waste solutions for recyclables. But the exclusive, what I found very interesting and has been the biggest point for us is that not only is it the exclusive agreement to collect the material, but it’s also to deliver it to a certified and permitted municipal facility. So in this case, it’s deliver all of the material to the county’s permitted landfill and material recovery facility located out in Livermore.
Kourtnii Brown: So for the hauling and the delivery of the materials, there were very few exemptions in this contract. I started looking through it beginning to launch my business. And these were for things really just for bulk furniture or homogeneous vegetative materials that were intended for things like animal feed. And if you wanted to self haul it, you could only self haul it to a permanent disposal facility. So this really put a wrench in our plan, which originally was slated to build and maintain flow through worm composting bins at one consolidated site, and then I would ride around on bicycles and pick up the food materials for local residents and businesses.
Kourtnii Brown: But I was told that none of the franchise agreement collection exemptions actually applied to this business model. And I concluded on my own that onsite recovery operations would be the only way to scale our impact and get around this. So we just ditched the idea of hauling completely. It was too much to handle. And also if we really get into it later, economically, it was very expensive to move material. We began focusing just on programs that provide source reduction in these zero waste goals, so still helping the city manage and achieve these targets. And specifically working with generators that are just driving to implement true zero waste solutions by just not creating the material that needs to be collected in the first place. So that’s kind of how we pivoted right at the beginning. So it was tough.
Brenda Platt: Sarah, let’s just go back to your story in San Diego, because I think you teed up very well, what the county’s doing with their 18 jurisdictions and the exclusive franchise agreement. How did that, like Monique in Kourtnii’s stories, how did that impact what you ended up having to do or alter what you were planning to do? All three of you talk about the circular economy and keeping things local and providing community benefits, and Kourtnii your story about, or the counties contracting with waste management and hauling it outside the community. It’s like the opposite of what you all are doing. And Sarah, what has that meant for you in San Diego?
Sarah Boltwala-…: Yeah, it has been a very long and arduous journey. And I really second what Monique said, you can’t really invest in a business when you don’t know whether it will be legally validated. So just to back up, like I mentioned, we were operating in a gray zone because we were not one of the franchise haulers. So we couldn’t really fit the bill, regardless of whether it was a non-exclusive zone or an exclusive zone. Since we were not a franchise hauler, we were kind of kept out. The doors were shut on us in terms of being able to operate. And by operate, I mean collect for a fee as well as compost because even the ability to compost materials that were generated offsite, meaning not on the same property that you were composting, even that was just mired in regulations and it was just very nebulous to interpret.
Sarah Boltwala-…: So this has really impacted, to this day, even after the revisions in the City of San Diego, which unfortunately the other cities and jurisdictions have not really taken a page from. We really thought that, that would kind of be the watershed moment for San Diego County, when the City of San Diego made those revisions favoring community composting. The other cities didn’t really do anything to move in that direction. And so even today, they still shut the door on us, either under the argument that we would violate the franchise agreement that they have with their exclusive hauler, because that allows their exclusive hauler to do exclusive collection in their jurisdiction. And so by allowing a community composter like Food2Soil to offer composting services, which their franchise hauler is not able to offer.
Sarah Boltwala-…: Even though they’re not offering that, they will still not open the doors to community composters like Food2Soil because that would still be a violation of their agreement. So it’s almost like the haulers are squatting on this space saying, “Yeah. You this agreement and you have to hold this space and allow us to squat until we are ready to build the facilities and provide you with this service.” And that could be three years, five years, 10 years down the road, or like waste management, we can take this material outside this county to Riverside County. You’ll just have to allow that as per the exclusive franchise agreement.
Sarah Boltwala-…: With the non-exclusive franchise and especially in the County of San Diego, there’s another piece of this, which is not really related to the franchise agreement, but it’s related to the county’s planning and development regs, and that’s about composting material that was not generated on site. So what they do is they’ll say you didn’t generate this material in this community garden or on this farm, you kind of trucked it from outside. And so even though it’s coming from the local neighborhood and from the local area, because it’s not generated on site, you cannot compost it.
Sarah Boltwala-…: What I’m trying to get at is that it’s a maze of regulations. And as community composters, people who really want to focus on turning this material, turning these scraps into soil that rejuvenates our open landscape, we have to deal with regulations, legalese, attorneys, cease and desists, which we’re not made for that. We don’t have the deep pockets for that, we don’t have the resources for that. We didn’t really make our business models to challenge the haulers. We are just here trying to fill in the gaps, like Monique said, and in some cases provide the service that the franchise hauler is not able to and doesn’t have any plans to.
Sarah Boltwala-…: So yeah, it has been very hard to navigate policy. It has been very hard to reason with local agencies, that here’s where we fit in and really we do fit in and you don’t have to be worried the haulers will sue you. But we are small fish and really no one’s paying attention, and we are not really contributing to the damage fees of the city either. So we are kind of in this press between the rock and the hard place.
Monique Figueir…: And I just want to add a quick comment to this. The analogy I like to use that I think helps it land for people where this is a new concept is it’s like the cities are saying, “You can only shop at your major grocery store. That’s it, that’s all you get.” You do not get to choose a local farmer’s market even if there’s one down the street ready to roll. And then they’re asking the farmers to advocate for their own rights. And the farmer just wants to grow food and feed their community and do something they love. And now they’re in this position of educating people on why local produce is important and the benefits of that as well as trying to run their farm day operations. And so I think the group of us here are saying, we’re not against major grocery stores, we’re against the level of preference they’ve been giving, funding and we’d like to see more options so people can choose what works best for their lifestyle and their values.
Brenda Platt: That’s a great analogy, Monique. And I think there’s also equity issues in terms of who you’re serving. I think Sarah, one of the example you’ve shared with me in the past is that you were looking to provide service to multifamily dwellings that didn’t have any access to food scrap collection service. And the exclusive preferred hauler wasn’t providing that service, but the town, you were still prevented from doing that. So it’s an equity issue at many different levels here. Kourtnii, I know in your role, not only with your own company, but as connected to the alliance, that in addition to these three major jurisdictions in California, that you guys are not alone in facing these challenges, either having to navigate a maze of regulation or having to operate in the shadows really in many ways. Have you been hearing stories from other community composters in other areas of the state?
Kourtnii Brown: Yes, totally, Brenda. It’s part of a larger statewide grant program, which the California Alliance for Community Composting is helping to implement for state agencies, CalRecycle. We have actually had to reach out to city agencies in launching the sites that we’ve selected to participate in the program. And during that process, we actually had one group, Desert Compost, located in Palm Springs, California. It was actually running into gaining permission from the city to actually run collection services as part of their community composting project. So [inaudible 00:25:38] banded together. We showed up at the sustainability commissions public hearing, and we advocated on behalf of Desert Compost as a group. And we have representatives, Monique was actually there as well, but we had representatives from our coalition actually present on all the myriad of community co-benefits that happen when the cities allow for these sorts of collection programs to take place as well as small scale operations.
Kourtnii Brown: And it’s happened at a really key moment because they are in the process of considering extending the current exclusive franchise agreement they have through 2028. And it is actually very limiting on who can provide other services that we essentially see are outside of this service agreement. So not only did we present on legal case law, really boring stuff, but we were also able to provide them with model franchise agreements that have been put together by the state that do expressly exempt community composting from these franchise agreements, and that we’d like to see those values extended in the Palm Springs zero waste goals and in future contracts that they are in the process of updating right now, so that these small scale initiatives can actually survive in that community. And I would say we were moderately successful. We were able to delay the city council vote on extending the contract because the mayor was actually very interested in learning about not only the local capacity that these small scale sites could provide, but learning a little bit more about the contract itself and to see if it needed any clauses added during the renegotiation process.
Kourtnii Brown: So we could say that the city council seemed overwhelmed in the amount of support and representation that we had at that public hearing. And so we were definitely heard, and that was exciting. So there has actually been no decision made in that area yet. But the site itself, the program, Desert Compost, has actually been working on community drop off in the meantime where generators who create the material can actually donate it to a community composting site. And exemptions for that are actually very explicit in the state law, SB 1383, which can get into if anyone wants to go down that route, how that’s connected. But it explicitly expresses that a jurisdiction cannot prohibit a generator from first reducing the amount of material they create managing their own material on site and donating that material to community based projects. So doesn’t solve the fee for hauling issue, but it does allow generators to donate material and keep it local.
Brenda Platt: Monique, you mentioned at the beginning, the need to create… You’re often curbside collection service, drop off isn’t enough. And by the way, Kourtnii, congratulations on Palm Springs. We’ll take the little success you got there and that underscores the importance of organizing an advocacy and education. So we got to keep hammering at that. But Monique, I don’t know if you want to comment on, even though we have the state law that allows drop off, that is just so insufficient for addressing this question of competition, and privileging large scale haulers over social enterprises, basically. It’s crazy
Monique Figueir…: For sure. Yeah. Drop off sites, I think, tend to feel less threatening to major haulers because there’s no fee involved. And so that’s fine, they still have exclusive right to the people that are making want to make some money off of this. And communities have a right to generate their own income and their own internal wealth. And so I think drop offs are awesome, but they’re not… If we only focus on one option, we leave people behind. If we only focus on large scale or drop offs, somebody is left behind. And so having a myriad of options ensures inclusion for all types of communities. So I have focused on hiccups because particularly in LA, this is the gig economy city. People are working three jobs at weird times, they’re driving all over the city. And sometimes, they don’t want to get back in their car with their material to go to a drop off site.
Monique Figueir…: Maybe they’re not comfortable with it, maybe it just isn’t a reality for their day to day schedule. And they still deserve to have the option to have their material go to a community composter instead of it being drop off or large scale. And so I’m a huge advocate for saying I’m so glad drop offs are slowly becoming included in this narrative, but we really need to also push for local resource recovery agencies, like myself, who are generating wealth from this. And when I say wealth, I mean my employees can pay their rent and go eat at a local restaurant, and we’re in donating to environmental justice programs. And so there’s a lot of community enrichment we do through this service.
Kourtnii Brown: Monique, I just wanted to piggyback off you on a few points there. The focus on drop offs versus collections can go up the hierarchy even in two ways where we could still possibly charge fees for our service. First, in the collection, by looking at it as a resource recovery instead of the waste hauling traditional service that these organizations are providing. And what’s keeping us there is a generator wants to sign up for services by a resource recover instead of a waste hauler. They want to get out of the amount of money that they’re having to pay for these municipal programs that are required, that they’re required to sign up right now. But sometimes, those self-hauling exemptions or signing up with another service to get out of the municipal one is just as expensive for applying for the exemption as paying for the service for a year. So what we’re seeing in areas where we come after an exclusive franchise agreement is already in place is what’s the impetus for the generator to not only continue paying for their municipal service and then also pay another fee to participate in resource recovery.
Kourtnii Brown: And then the drop off. So disposal facilities charging tipping fees are separate from these hauling contracts. But sometimes the hauling contracts come in tandem with the material can only be delivered to specific facilities. And so therefore, allows the tipping fee portion to still continue at only permitted sites and locations. So it’s getting these sites also able to charge a fee for tipping, as that we are actually providing service and capacity for these cities. And that tipping fee helps build infrastructure, it helps pay the wages for the people who are doing the work on site and that those areas of generating revenue also are really right for opportunity and should be allowed as well.
Sarah Boltwala-…: I just want to clarify a few things, probably very nuanced here. So one thing, drop offs don’t have to be donation based, and I think that’s what Kourtnii was also alluding to. But I just like to state it very clearly drop offs do not need to be donation based. And that is also not something that SB 1383 suggests. It is definitely interpreted by a lot of local governments that SB 1383 is alluding to it being donation based.
Sarah Boltwala-…: SB 1383 clearly says that resource reduction is the first… So a generator’s right to source reduce, to self haul and to use a community composting facility. They do not talk about whether it is donation based or whether it’s fee based. And I think we need to really hold our ground on this because it allows us whether it’s a drop off, whether as a community composter we are offering drop offs, collection or a mix of the two, SB 1383 does not preclude us from charging for our services. So yes, drop offs do not need to be donation based and SB 1383, we really, really need to hold our ground on SB 1383 in terms of what the potential it has for us to really claim our place at the table.
Brenda Platt: Just so our listeners know, California Senate bill 1383, that Sarah’s talking about out as a new organic waste law that was enacted to reduce emissions of short lived climate pollutants, which contribute to global warming, et cetera. And it requires food service providers and others in the industry to be responsible for reducing the organic wasted food that they generate. It’s all outlined in the law. Because of the law that law and other laws in California and elsewhere, a lot of counties and cities that have moved to solid waste franchise districts claim that one of the big reasons they’re doing this is to help them meet their zero waste schools. I just want to be clear, there are many ways to reach zero waste goals aside from carving up your city or county into solid waste zones and handing it to just a few large waste haulers.
Brenda Platt: And I think Kourtnii, when you mentioned in Palm Springs is moving exemptions for community composters. But even in addition to community composters, composting comes in all sizes, right? So there’s large waste haulers and there’s community composters. Do you have thoughts or position on, are we just advocating for exemptions for community composters or do you believe that all of these solid waste district agreements and this whole system should be revamped completely in order to open up to wider ranges of business and enterprises handling reducing waste and finding alternatives to landfill disposal and incineration?
Kourtnii Brown: Yes. Also, the California Alliance for Community Composting does not have a specific position on exclusive franchise agreements. But we have put a lot of effort into the research about what contracts look like, and what is inside of them. And therefore, can speak and help community composters who are grappling with these facets of waste hauling law, to help better advocate for allowing their services to participate alongside and sometimes in partnership with these larger scale companies. But what we really encourage the cities to look at is everything in between, backyard composting and a large scale composting municipal system. So this can include everything we’ve been talking about in just our three businesses today, but specifically the ecosystem of who’s generating it, how is it being picked up, where is it being moved to and then how is it being used, and showing cities this solution and this ecosystem that could be possible if they would allow and update municipal codes and update and renegotiate contracts that may be already in place so that these sorts of operations can exist.
Kourtnii Brown: When I was working with the Sustainable Economies Law Center, we hosted a year long soil policy party, which was a group of community composters in Oakland. And we met once a month and we fed them, we talked about stories, we’d research one facet of the municipal code in Oakland. And then we would put an action item together.
Kourtnii Brown: One of the biggest action items that came out of the soil policy party in Oakland was a legal guide for community composting in Alameda County. And it looked at all 17 cities who the exclusive waste haulers were and what was in the contracts which could support or needed improvement in order to support community-based resource recovery work, especially focusing on collection. But also, zoning and permitting for where the materials could be taken. And that is happening at the local jurisdiction level. So we do get a lot of support through SB 1383 and through CalRecycle in the state. But essentially, these are conversations that need to happen at the local level. So I really am a big proponent for the soil policy party curriculum style. It will be a resource that will be available on this podcast that you can click, download and try it out with your local community and see where it goes. First, you need to understand the law before you can really learn how to improve it effectively.
Sarah Boltwala-…: I’d like to jump in here and share my perspective on this question. I don’t think that just doing away with solid waste exclusive franchise agreements is the solution. There are certain positives to it. It helps the cities manage their solid waste in a very structured way. So doing away with these exclusive franchise agreements and the franchise system is probably not really going to help community composters. I feel that the way forward, at least in the short run, is going to be to get ourselves a place at the table. And a very elegant way of getting that place at the table is to get exemptions, just get carve outs in the municipal ordinance. Something that a policy maker would be much more likely to consider than just completely doing away with the exclusive franchise system.
Sarah Boltwala-…: We are community composters. There are limits to what we can process and how much we can process. We have to be upfront about this. I’ve met community composters who want no thresholds. Well, if you don’t want any thresholds, then your aim and your vision and your goal is to become a large franchise hauler without any restrictions or requirements. And that’s not fair either. So if we say that we need all approaches at hand, then let’s keep the exclusive franchise agreements and just advocate for carve outs so that we can also operate, we can fill in the gaps, we can live within thresholds, we can really prove at even community composters have the responsibility, have the accountability that they’re, that these cities are looking from large haulers, and that we can provide a valuable service. And then maybe 10, 15, 20 years down the road, this entire system of exclusive franchises may just be meaningless and it will just crumble on its own.
Monique Figueir…: Yeah. I always say it’s not an us or them, it’s an us and them, and that human brains love simple answers to complex problems. But in nature, there are no simple answers to complex problems. There’s complexity. And so I think that’s a really hard paradox to hold, especially when you’re working within regulations and code and mandates. But the more we can have our human based systems mimic our ecosystems, then the more no one is left behind. And so I couldn’t agree with Sarah more… I’m not looking to push anybody out, I just want to be included in the conversation and I want people to have the option to choose what’s best for their lifestyle.
Brenda Platt: And Monique, can you talk about what LA County Unincorporated is doing to help include micro haulers?
Monique Figueir…: Yeah, I was so excited when I heard this. I just was kind of singing in the car after the meeting. I have met with some of the people at LA County, and they’re going to release an RFP for, quote, unquote, micro haulers. And I know we have lots of different names, resource recovery companies, small scale composters. But the fact of the matter is they’re going to release an RFP that says micro haulers can operate in their area. They will have an exclusive franchise agreement, but they are giving space exemptions, like Sarah said, for micro haulers in the unincorporated area. And they literally called me to ask me my thoughts on what they should write in this RFP. And it was just so moving to be…I told them, I was like, “This is the first time I’ve ever been called to be included in this conversation.”
Monique Figueir…: And it really means a lot to me because I can tell them what my limits are and what my strengths are and what I’m looking for and what I’m not looking for as a community composter. And they were like, “Oh, great. Awesome. I guess we don’t need that restriction in place.” And I’m like, “Please don’t put that restriction in place. It’s going to really hinder me in all these kind of ways.” And then they were like, “We were thinking about this,” and I was like, “Yeah, that seems fine. If that helps your large scale haulers feel more secure as they’re getting used to these different models coming out, totally fine. That’s not going to impact me.” And it hasn’t come out yet. It probably won’t come out until August. But just to be called and asked for my opinion on the RFP release, it was just so validating to the conversation I’ve been trying to have for years.
Brenda Platt: Congratulations, Monique.
Monique Figueir…: Thank you.
Brenda Platt: Carve outs, exemptions, encouraging these jurisdictions to create separate RFPs for micro haulers. New York City, which as you can imagine, is a city that has been trying to eliminate corruption and the influence of organized crime and it’s trash hauling businesses for years. They have, I think it was back in 2018, they created zoning that allows micro haulers, micro hauling and food rescue, in their zoning. And not only do they have these exemptions and clear guidelines, but one of the other things they did is they carved up the city into 20 zones. But instead of giving an exclusive contract to one holler, they allowed three to five to compete within a zone. So they just narrowed the number of businesses that can work in a zone. So that may be also something to look at and we’ll put the link to the New York City plan in our show notes as well.
Sarah Boltwala-…: So in addition to carve outs and exemptions, SB 1383 also requires that local agencies consider their community capacity for composting in their capacity planning exercises. So every local agency, when they are submitting their capacity planning for organics report to CalRecycle. They are supposed to consider their capacity for community composting. And while this may seem like nothing, it may just seem like it’s just a line item, most cities are going to just report zeros. This is the time when, as community composters, we have to come forward and say, “Hey, we have this capacity. The fact that you’ve not let us operate and you’ve shut the door on us does not mean that this capacity has disappeared or gone away. You’ve closed the door on us. You’ve kept press outside and you’ve just turned around and said, ‘Hey we don’t have any community composters.'” Well, no, they’re there, they’re just behind the door.
Sarah Boltwala-…: We have to go back to our local agencies. Anyone who has the ability to compost in their backyard, in their community garden, in their urban farms, in their school gardens has to go back to their local agency and say, “Hey, I have this capacity and I would like you to report that in your capacity planning report to CalRecycle.” Because this is there. And the only reason it’s not augmented is because you have some archaic regulations, either on the solid waste side or on the zoning side that need to be revised. And there are a whole bunch of elegant ways in which you can revise that. Look at San Diego, look at LA and those are just revisions, changes in verbiage that need to be done in your policy.
Brenda Platt: Sarah, I do like the suggestion to require the local jurisdiction planning to incorporate whether it’s whole composting or community composting or on farm composting elsewhere, and prevention in determining what capacity you need, how much waste can you avoid in the first place. And we have, at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we have a hierarchy on reducing food waste and building community. And we’ll put a link to that, but we would love that to be integrated into what’s required of local jurisdictions, that they have to consider these other options.
Kourtnii Brown: Exactly, Brenda. We go by the value that waste is not waste until you waste it. And a lot of these contracts would interpret the material that needs to be collected as material that’s discarded or useless or unwanted or undesirable. And we’re clearly not working with material that has been discarded. It’s things that generators care very deeply for, and they want to see the best and highest use in its next life. Just on that, I think we’re outside the scope of these in general.
Brenda Platt: Yep. And local government should not be using the authority and power. They have to privilege just large scale businesses. So one thing they have to do, they cannot be sending Sarah at Food2Soil to the lawyer for the hauler to answer the questions. It’s just so insane. So that’s just something that I think is clear that we are all in agreement of that we need to educate local government and do some more advocacy. Start your soil policy party soon folks.
Jess Del Fiacco: Thank you, Brenda. And thanks to all of you. You’re all doing just so such amazing work and it’s great to hear about your experiences in California. I wanted to ask one, just kind of fun wrap up question, which is to ask each of you to share a favorite, or if you can’t pick one, maybe a couple favorite local independent businesses that you want to shout out.
Sarah Boltwala-…: This is nothing composting related, it is food related. I love my local pizza place.
Jess Del Fiacco: Solid answer. Monique?
Monique Figueir…: Every Saturday, I walk to my local yoga studio and take a class and then go next door and get, there’s a coffee shop right next door, and have a coffee. And it’s basically my favorite morning of the week. So shout out to Light On Lotus and Alana’s Coffee in Mar Vista.
Jess Del Fiacco: Okay. Brenda, would you like to share?
Brenda Platt: Yeah, I want to do a shout out to FullFillery, which is, as you might guess from the name, a refill and low zero waste shop in my neighborhood in TTakoma Park, Maryland. Love them.
Kourtnii Brown: I’d like to give a shout out to Kilovolt cafe in West Oakland. I’ve had many of much needed sandwiches on long work days there and hosted good discussions there. And I’m really just always grateful for their delicious sandwiches and hospitality.
Jess Del Fiacco: I love a good sandwich shout out. That’s great. Thank you.
Kourtnii Brown: One thing that I did want to talk about when you first said local business, I was actually just going to give a shout out to the City of Alameda who has been the one who’s most embraced the community composting for green spaces and community composting projects in Alameda County. And we’re working with Alameda Point Collaborative there as a part of a youth development and apprentice program to actually use the site to provide capacity for residential generation of materials. So they’re actually building it into their capacity statement for their own city’s zero waste goals. But what they are able to actually recover and recuperate, in a local sense, for building their local soil. So it’s a kind of a model, a city decision where I’m working, that I’d really like to just elevate the discussion and use this an example. I’m really excited to start showcasing this project in the next year.
Jess Del Fiacco: I realize I asked everyone else’s out thinking about what mine is, but definitely up at the top, there’s a children’s bookstore a couple blocks from my house called, Red Balloon Books, which is a great place to go and spend a lot of money on very wonderful children’s books. That’s my enjoyable way to spend like a weekend afternoon. With that, unless anyone has a final comment to share, I think we’re at the end of the conversation. So thank you everybody.
Kourtnii Brown: Thank you.
Brenda Platt: Thanks guys.
Sarah Boltwala-…: Thank you, Brenda. Thank you, Jess. Thank you, Monique.
Jess Del Fiacco: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Composting for Community Podcast, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. We’ll be back again next month with a new episode. Our theme music is, I Don’t Know, from Grapes. Be sure to check out the rest of the ILSR podcast family, including Building Local Power, Local Energy Rules and Community Broadband Bits, at


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Audio Credit: I Dunno by Grapes. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.

Image Credit: Monique Figueiredo

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Brenda Platt

Brenda Platt directs ILSR's Composting for Community project.