California’s Next Climate Change Target Is Food Waste

Leftover banana peels, chicken bones and veggies won’t have a place in California trash cans under the nation’s largest mandatory residential food waste recycling program that goes into effect in January.

The effort is designed to keep landfills in the most populous state in the US free of food waste that damages the atmosphere as it decomposes. When food scraps and other organic materials decompose, they emit methane, a greenhouse gas that is more potent and harmful in the short term than carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

To avoid those emissions, California plans to start turning residents’ food waste into compost or energy, becoming the second state in the US to do so after Vermont launched a similar program last year.

Most people in California will have to put excess food in green trash cans instead of in the trash. The municipalities will then compost the food waste or use it to create biogas, an energy source similar to natural gas.

“This is the biggest change in trash since recycling began in the 1980s,” said Rachel Wagoner, director of the California Department of Recycling and Resource Recovery.

He added that “it is the easiest and fastest thing that each person can do to affect climate change.”

The California push reflects a growing recognition of the role food waste plays in damaging the environment in the United States, where up to 40% of food is wasted, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

A handful of states and nations, including France, have passed laws requiring grocery stores and other large businesses to recycle or donate excess food to charities, but California’s program is aimed at homes and businesses.

The state passed a law in 2016 with the goal of reducing methane emissions by significantly reducing food waste. Organic material like food and yard waste makes up half of everything in California landfills and one-fifth of the state’s methane emissions, according to CalRecycle.

Starting in January, all cities and counties that provide waste collection services are supposed to have food recycling programs in place and grocery stores are required to donate edible food that would otherwise be thrown into food banks or organizations. Similar.

Food waste becomes California’s latest climate change target. #California #FoodWaste #ClimateChange

“There’s just no reason to put this material in a landfill, it turns out it’s cheap and easy to do,” said Ned Spang, faculty director of the Food Loss and Waste Collaborative at the University of California, Davis.

Vermont, home to 625,000 people compared to California’s nearly 40 million, is the only other state that prohibits residents from throwing their food waste in the trash. Under a law that took effect in July 2020, residents can compost waste in their yards, choose to pick it up on the sidewalk, or drop it off at waste stations. Cities like Seattle and San Francisco have similar programs.

California law stipulates that by 2025 the state must reduce organic waste in landfills by 75% from 2014 levels, or from approximately 23 million tons to 5.7 million tons.

Most local governments will allow homeowners and apartment dwellers to dump excess food in garden trash cans, and some will provide countertop bins to hold the remains for a few days before taking it out into the air. free. Some areas may get exemptions for parts of the law, such as rural places where bears rummage through garbage cans.

Food waste will go to the facility for composting or for conversion into energy through anaerobic digestion, a process that generates biogas that can be used as natural gas for heating and electricity.

But California composting facilities face a strict permitting process to carry food waste along with traditional green waste like leaves, and only a fifth of the state’s facilities can currently accept food waste.

The state also set a goal by 2025 to divert 20% of food that would otherwise go to landfills to feed people in need. Supermarkets should start donating their excess food in January, and hotels, restaurants, hospitals, schools, and big events will start donating in 2024.

The donation portion of the California law will contribute to the federal goal of cutting food waste in half by 2030.

Davis is among California cities that already have a mandatory food recycling program. Joy Klineberg, a mother of three, puts coffee grounds, fruit peels and food scraps in a metal container labeled “compost” on her counter. When preparing dinner, empty the excess food from the cutting board into the container.

Every few days, he dumps the contents in his green trash container outside, which is collected and sent to a county facility. Unpleasant odors from countertop containers have not been a problem, he said.

“All you’re changing is where you throw things, it’s just another container,” he said. “It’s really easy and it’s incredible how much garbage you have.”

Implementing similar programs in larger cities is more challenging.

The two most populous in the state, Los Angeles and San Diego, which together make up about one in eight Californians, are among the cities that won’t have their programs ready for all households next month.

This is because it takes time to purchase necessary equipment, such as green trash containers for households that do not yet have them for yard waste and to set up facilities to take the material. Trash collection fees will increase in many places.

Like Davis, CalRecycle wants to focus more on education and less on punishment. Governments can avoid sanctions by informing the state before March if they don’t have programs in place and outline plans to start them. Cities that refuse to comply could eventually be fined up to $ 10,000 per day.

Ken Prue, deputy director of San Diego’s environmental services department, said the city invested nearly $ 9 million in this year’s budget to purchase more garbage cans, kitchen containers and trucks to transport the additional waste.

Prue hopes San Diegans will quickly realize the importance of recycling food waste after the program begins next summer.

“Hopefully, before you know it, it becomes second nature,” he said.

Leave a Comment