Food Leftover Becomes California’s Latest Climate Change Target

Leftover food won’t be allowed in California trash cans starting from January as part of the nation’s largest mandatory residential food waste recycling program.

This effort aims to prevent food waste from being dumped into landfills in the nation’s most populous state.

The breakdown of food scraps and other organic materials releases methane.

Methane is a greenhouse gas that is more potent and harmful than carbon emissions from fossil fuels in the short term.

Moving forward, food waste from California residents will be turned into compost and energy as part of a program to avoid emissions.

Following Vermont’s launch of a similar program last year, California will become the second U.S. state to target climate change through food waste.

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How will California Process Food Waste for Climate Change?

Most residents of California will have to throw away excess food in green waste bins instead of the trash.

Local governments will then compost the food waste or use them to produce biogas — an alternative energy source to natural gas.

“This is the biggest change to trash since recycling started in the 1980s,” claimed Rachel Wagoner, director of the California Department of Resources Recovery and Recycling.

According to her, it “is the single easiest and fastest thing that every single person can do to affect climate change.”

This climate-centered move by California reflects a growing understanding of the environmental impact of food waste, which accounts for up to 40% of food wasted in the United States, according to the country’s Agriculture Department.

Few states and nations, such as France, require large businesses and grocery stores to recycle food or donate it to charities.

California’s program targets households and businesses, however.

A 2016 law reduced methane emissions by enforcing that the citizenry reduces food waste significantly.

Half of California landfills hold waste from organic materials, such as food and yard waste.

All these waste emit about a fifth of the state methane emissions from Organics, according to CalRecycle.

Food recycling programs are required to be implemented by all cities and counties which will provide garbage service beginning in January.

Food banks and similar organizations are required to accept edible food remains that would otherwise be discarded by grocery stores.

“There’s just no reason to stick this material in a landfill, it just happens to be cheap and easy to do, according to Ned Spang, faculty lead for UC Davis’ Food Loss and Waste Collaborative.

In addition to California, Vermont is the only state that prohibits residents from disposing of food waste in the trash.

Vermont has just 625,000 total residents compared to California’s nearly 40 million.

Residents can choose to compost waste in their yards, and have it picked up curbside, or can drop it at waste stations, according to a law that took effect in July 2020.

Similar programs exist in Seattle and San Francisco.

Similar programs are more difficult to implement in larger cities.

By 2025, the California law state that the state must reduce its organic waste in landfills by 75% from 2014 levels, meaning that there will be a total of 5.7 million tons of organic waste instead of 23 million tons.

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Almost all local governments are to allow residents to dispose of their food in yard waste bins.

They will hold the scraps on the countertops for a few days before taking them outside to be disposed of.

In rural areas where bears rummage through trash cans, some parts of the law can be exempted.

In addition to composting and anaerobic digestion, the food waste will be converted into electricity and heat by anaerobic digestion, which creates biogas.

There are strict requirements for composting facilities in California.

In the state, only one in five facilities may accept food waste.

Other Plans to Tackle Climate Change through Waste Food

Also in the state’s 2025 Strategic plan, 20% of the food that would otherwise end up in landfills will be diverted to people in need.

Beginning in January, supermarkets and large event venues will donate excess food,

Hotels, restaurants, hospitals, and schools in California will take similar steps by 2024.

Donation programs are part of a California law that contributes to reducing food waste by half by 2030.

Food recycling is currently made mandatory in Davis and other California cities.

Unpleasant Odor from Food Waste is not a Problem

Keeping a metal compost bin on her counter, Joy Klineberg collects coffee grounds, fruit rinds, and cooking scraps. Food excess is thrown into the trash bin after she uses the cutting board to prepare dinner.

Each time she dumps the contents into the bin, the county picks it up and takes it to the facility.

According to her, unpleasant counter bin odors haven’t been a problem.

“All you’re changing is where you’re throwing things, it’s just another bin,” she told. “It’s really easy, and it’s amazing how much less trash you have.”

Some Cities in California will not Have Access to the Program

Next month, all households in two of the most populous cities in the state won’t have access to the programs.

In these cities, buying the necessary equipment, such as bins for yard waste, takes time if a home does not already have them.

In addition, setting up the facilities to receive the materials takes time.

Moreso, many places will put up on increases in their trash collection fees.

If a city doesn’t have the programs and plans in place by March, it can avoid penalties by self-reporting to the state.

After that, the government can help the state outline plans to do the needful.

Meanwhile, fines of up to $10,000 per day could be levied on cities that eventually refuse to comply.

The city of San Diego budgeted nearly $9 million for purchases of waste bins, kitchen top containers, and trucks to handle the increased volume of waste.

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This is according to Ken Prue, deputy director of San Diego’s environmental services department.

As the program gets underway next summer, Prue hopes residents of San Diego will realize how important recycling food waste is.

“Hopefully before they know it, it becomes second nature,” he stated.

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