Taking Back Our Soil: Our Project on Compost Law & Policy

A little-known fact about Sustainable Economies Law Center: We have a project focused on Community Compost Law & Policy. Like many of our projects, it developed in direct response to a need that surfaced repeatedly for our clients and collaborators. Making soil is a legally complex matter, and community-based compost organizations and urban farms have been hitting legal barriers that sometimes make their work impossible.

The fate of a banana peel can illustrate this. Different regulatory frameworks apply when the peel is:

  1. picked up from a restaurant or residence (local waste collection laws);
  2. transported in a vehicle (state and local laws);
  3. dropped at an intermediate location (state transfer laws and local zoning laws);
  4. taken to a composting facility (state compost facility licensing laws, environmental laws, and zoning laws);
  5. rotting (ongoing reporting requirements by the compost facility);
  6. bagged up for sale (testing and labeling laws); and
  7. sold (special sales tax rules sometimes apply).

Those are a lot of legal considerations for a decomposition process that nature has traditionally managed without any guidance whatsoever!

Compost is a hot topic now, mainly because compost can save the earth! Or, at the very least, it can greatly enhance our ability to sequester carbon. Also, many states now have legislated mandates to systematically divert organic waste from landfills. In California, this requires that we scale our composting infrastructure rapidly. One legislative analyst estimated that more than 14,000 jobs could be created by such a mandate.

We have only a short window of time to influence the shape of the nascent compost industry. Will large corporations build massive compost facilities and seek exclusive rights to manage our communities’ green waste? Or can we act now to create a decentralized, community-based composting sector that will create rich soil, fertile local gardens and farms, educational opportunities, and good jobs? Law and policy play a significant role in answering that question, which is why the Law Center has gotten involved.

Over the past two years, volunteers have helped us research compost law, draft policy recommendations, pitch legislative proposals in California, and provide legal advice to community-based compost organizations. Now, we are collaborating with a loose coalition of California-based compost organizations to explore advocacy routes. If we can raise sufficient funds, we’ll likely expand to do this work nationally.

We've also been working with wonderful law students and Berkeley Law School's Environmental Law Clinic to produce a draft brief for policymakers on ways to advocate for community composting. We are currently working to revise and expand this brief. In the meantime, we've inspired law students to draw cartoons about compost law. Here is a bewildered banana peel on its way to a community compost center. True story!

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Learn more about our compost work here

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Cooperative California Cities and the “New Economy”: Learning From History, Starting from Success

By Jason Spicer for CoLab Radio

Excerpt: The “New Economy” label is used by a rising generation seeking to promote economic democracy, and build an economy which achieves the three e’s of the famed “urban planner’s triangle”: environmental sustainability, social equity, and economic development. For those interested in actionable, place-based strategies towards this end, the San Francisco Bay Area is currently a hotbed of activity, featuring a rich ecosystem of worker cooperatives, employee-owned firms, support and advocacy organizations, and local government initiatives, making it an exciting case study for those in other city-regions. What can those seeking to grow a “New Economy” learn from the Bay Area?

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Cottage food industry may get boost from bill

By Jonathan Kauffman for the San Francisco Chronicle

Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

Photo Credit: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

Excerpt: This week, Assemblymen Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella (Riverside County), and Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, are introducing AB626, the Homemade Food Operations Act, a bill that would allow home cooks to sell hot, prepared foods directly to customers. Though it is backed by Josephine, a for-profit Oakland online startup that connects home cooks with nearby customers, the bill could have a much broader impact on low-income and immigrant communities across the state.

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New Homemade Food Legislation - 2017

On Tuesday, a bill was introduced in the California legislature to expand the types of homemade foods allowed to be sold in California, especially hot meals. The bill, AB 626, was introduced by Assemblymembers Eduardo Garcia and Joaquin Arambula, however, the bill is still in “spot bill” form, meaning that the full details are not yet written in the public record. The current bill just paints a picture in broad brushstrokes of what the two Assemblymembers seek to achieve. Nevertheless, this is really exciting and potentially groundbreaking legislation! However, after much deliberation and meetings with stakeholders around the state, we’ve decided that we will only support further homemade food legislation if it ensures some form of community ownership of any web platforms intermediating the sale of homemade foods.

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Sustainable Economies Law Center Awarded American Bar Association Award

The Sustainable Economies Law Center was awarded the 2017 Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access by the American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services. The Louis M. Brown Award recognizes our center for "improving access to legal services for those of moderate and middle incomes in ways that are remarkable and replicable." Our Resilient Communities Legal Cafe Program and our Fellowship Program are two ways in which our Center is improving legal access for those of moderate income. 

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New Workers' Comp Law Undermines Worker Ownership in California

California State Assembly.pngBecause of a new California law that passed last year, starting January 1, 2017, any worker cooperative corporation with seven or more members must now obtain workers compensation insurance for its worker-owners, even when everyone serves on the Board of Directors.

Although Assembly Bill (AB) 2883 was framed as a bill to clean up ambiguities in the code, it failed to take into account its impact on Cooperative Corporations. Many worker cooperatives are now being hit with enormous insurance bills costing worker-owners as much as 20% of their income. Prior to AB 2883, worker-owners had a choice in how this money was spent, sometimes setting it aside instead for higher wages that are paid directly to workers, or using it to provide comprehensive medical insurance. AB 2883 effectively takes this decision-making power away from worker-owners, undermining worker self-determination.  

This article provides background, steps that cooperatives can take to respond, and information about the worker cooperative community’s current efforts to change the law.

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How can we help you?

Jamie Facciola of Repair Revolution
Jamie Facciola of Repair Revolution. Photos by Gabriel Tolliver of Oaklandnorth.net

Meet Jamie. She’s an entrepreneur who first came to the Resilient Communities Legal Cafe in 2015 with a question: "If I reframe repair, will people come?" Since then, her business, Repair Revolution, has gone through many iterations. She’s brought together a cluster of neighborhood repair shops for pop-up events in Oakland, where Oaklanders bring their old clothes, phones, and small appliances to be fixed, and she operated a two-month-long repair salon at OwlNWood, a local boutique in uptown Oakland. 

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Bay Area law center to receive ABA award for improving access to legal services

Excerpt: 

CHICAGO, Jan. 17, 2017 — The ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services has selected the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) of Oakland, Calif., to receive its 2017 Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access.

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Piecing Together the Community Energy Puzzle

By Subin Varghese, Community Renewable Energy Director

What if you could use your consumer power and investment dollars to drive a fast and equitable transition to renewables? That’s part of the potential of community-owned renewable energy: to expand opportunities for ordinary citizens to put their money toward community-controlled energy facilities that share not just electricity among community members, but the economic benefits of the enterprise as well.

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Resiliency in a Time of Trump

By Simon Mont, Organizational Design Fellow

It can be difficult for a nonprofit to stay aligned with its mission. As contexts change and opportunities and funding appear and disappear, leaders are faced with the task of keeping their organizations financially viable while maximizing impact. The pressure to keep the organization afloat financially and keep their staff employed can induce leaders to pursue strategies that are more responsive to funders than what the community really needs. Streams of funding will shift under Trump’s administration, and it’s important that we are vigilant about staying aligned and accountable.

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The Power of Wholeness in the Workplace

By Simon Mont, Organizational Design Fellow

Humans are truly amazing creatures.  We can reason and deduce.  We can intuit and feel. We have an innate desire to expand ourselves to understand more complexity, assume more responsibility, make bigger contributions, and develop into an ideal version of our selves that we can now just barely glimpse even in the moments of our greatest clarity. We hold visions of unnameable harmony and justice in our hearts. When we have the space to follow this deeply held, essentially human, intuition, we are capable of tremendous insight and creativity.

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Another Rabbit Hole is Possible

By Chris Tittle, Director of Organizational Resilience

Community -

Even before the outcome of this year’s elections, we knew that for far too long our dominant political and economic systems have served the very few while driving us toward climate chaos, wealth inequality, war, and social injustice.

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2016 Annual Report

The Sustainable Economies Law Center got a lot done this year, and we couldn't have done it without supporters like you

Below is our 
2016 Annual Report to highlights the ways we've helped create more just and resilient local economies across the country. (Click the image below to see a full-sized PDF with links!)

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On British Pop & Food Sovereignty

headshot.jpgBy Neil Thapar, Food & Farm Attorney

The holidays are by far my favorite time of year. I see family and friends, take time to reflect on the year behind me, and continuously listen to carols on the radio. Unfortunately, the way we celebrate the holidays in the United States also highlights some of the scariest characteristics of American society - mass consumerism, perpetuating national origin myths, and instantaneously combustible trees in our homes. Really, be careful with those Christmas trees!

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Do Nonprofits Need Bosses?

By LUCAS MCGRANAHAN for Democracy at Work

Excerpt: The question is how far democracy can be embedded into a nonprofit organization. This question is now being taken up by Oakland’s Sustainable Economies Law Center, a self-described ‘worker self-directed nonprofit.’ Because the Law Center supports worker cooperatives, housing cooperatives, community renewable energy cooperatives, and other forms of economic democracy, they consider it important to practice workplace democracy themselves. In the words of staff member Chris Tittle, “distributing leadership throughout our organization has undoubtedly led to us to be more creative in our work, more inclusive in our perspectives, and more accountable to each other, our communities, and our partners.”

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