Q&A with Jessica Toth, executive director of Solana Center for Environmental Innovation

Jessica Toth
(Solana Center for Environmental Innovation)

As executive director for Solana Center for Environmental Innovation, Jessica Toth’s responsibilities include working with the community as the new year ushers in a new environmental law. SB 1383 will implement recycling requirements for organic waste.

In a Q&A, Toth, a Del Mar resident, spoke about her experience at the Solana Center and some of the work she’s in the middle of. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.

Q. What’s your professional background?

A. I started as an engineer and then went to business school, so my background was more in technology in the past. As my kids were youngins, I wanted to make sure they understood their role in having an impact on the environment. One thing led to another, after doing school projects I designed the programming and got the Rob Machado Foundation up and running and then came to the Solana Center almost nine years ago. I worked in high tech, I had an educational software startup years ago and did consulting work as well. So I had a number of different roles, but I was always passionate about the environment.

Q. How did you end up at the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation?

A. The organization was not doing well financially, and I was asked to be a board member [for the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation] when I was working at the Rob Machado Foundation. I said I think I need to understand the operations more, and I said I’ll tell you in three months whether Solana Center should merge with another nonprofit or make a go of it. Here we are 10 years later and we’re doing fine.

I couldn’t imagine a better place. And it’s interesting, I had always been of the mind to encourage people and be the best I can. A lot of the work the organization has done over past years has been very much about enabling behavior change by businesses, by individuals, by cities that we work with. But the new legislation at the state level has really been a kick in the seat of the pants for the 18 cities and county of San Diego to really step it up, specifically with regard to organic waste and keeping it out of the landfill.

Q. What should residents know about SB 1383?

A. There are so many different aspects to it. There’s ‘Why are we doing this?’ Which is central. It was a new understanding to me when I came to Solana Center that organic material, which means yard waste, food waste, food soil, paper, even textiles, when they end up in the landfill, it goes through an anaerobic process. We put materials on top of them so it decomposes anaerobically and creates a lot of very potent greenhouse gases.

That’s why the state has taken this position. From an environmental perspective, let’s keep this organic material from the landfill. It takes up as much as 40% of our landfill.

What people need to know is it’s starting Jan. 1. All of the jurisdictions are required to have services made available to their constituents for curbside pickup of organic waste.

Q. Do you have any particular goals for the organization going forward?

A. I would like to see that we are able to impact every city in our region with the kind of environmental education that we provide. We are working with more than 75% of the jurisdictions and have inquiries particularly related to SB 1383 from 90%. But I think what’s really important in that is the consistency across borders of the different cities is very important, in my view, as well as the economies of scale for them to be able to, for example, have all consistent signage or workshops with the same messaging. That’s the direction we’re going in.

For more information on the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation, visit www.solanacenter.org.