Toth is the executive director of the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation, an environmental nonprofit in the San Diego area that focuses on waste, water and soil, and lives in Del Mar. Winters is the Director of Marketing and Development of the Solana Center and lives in San Marcos.
Every day, a precious resource is thrown away by us all with a devastating impact: food.
In the United States alone, 30 to 40 percent of all food produced is thrown away. Not only does this waste all the resources needed to produce that food – from minerals and nutrients extracted from the soil to the water used – but also creates a critical environmental hazard.
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What makes him so dangerous? You might think, as we did before, “It’s a waste of course, but at least the food will decompose in the landfill.” And it is, to our detriment. Because when organic matter breaks down in landfill, it creates methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.
This makes the food we throw away a major contributor to climate change.
This is what California’s new law, Senate Bill 1383, seeks to address. The bill forces Californians to treat food waste the same way we treat recyclables by separating it from our landfill waste to dramatically reduce the state’s methane production – a key part in the fight against the climate crisis.
At the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation, we have worked with local cities to provide solutions for residents and businesses to respond to Senate Bill 1383, and we know there are a lot of questions. But while changing habits can be tricky, and the idea of wasting food can be unappealing, it’s really easy to implement with a few small changes.
For individuals and families, it’s simple: just like recycling, you will separate your food waste from your waste. This means that meal prep scraps, plate scrapings, food soiled paper, and spoiled inedible food will, in most cities, be placed in your trash can or residential trash can along with yard waste. Look for your waste hauler’s instructions for specific details based on your location.
Want an easy way to start sorting your food waste? We recommend that you use a kitchen cart to collect your waste and, once full, empty it directly into your street trash can. About the size of a large cookie jar, kitchen caddies can be washed easily and hold a surprising amount despite their limited footprint, making them a great tool for home kitchens of all sizes.
For businesses, the process is similar, but there is an additional element that requires edible food to be separated for donation. This is a wonderful feature of the California mandate. Much of the food that ends up in the landfill is perfectly good. Meanwhile, up to 1 in 3 San Diego residents are food insecure. The new law requires jurisdictions to establish food donation programs, forcing food companies to partner with food banks and pantries.
Through Center Solana’s years of consulting with businesses on food waste and our recent work on Senate Bill 1383, we understand the concerns that odors, staff training, and space constraints raise for consumers. local businesses. While these seem intimidating, they are surmountable, and there are successful examples to prove it, from large grocery stores like Jimbo’s to small businesses like GOODONYA Organic Eatery. It may take a while to get new processes in place, but they will soon become routine.
So why haven’t we done something about food waste sooner? Currently, we are generating more than we can process. In 2020, the San Diego area was producing 1.6 million metric tonnes of food waste and only a third of the capacity needed to process that waste. While Center Solana has been working for decades to raise awareness and provide solutions to the problem of organic waste, it was only with the new legislation that treatment capacity began to be addressed as a region. The state mandate was the necessary impetus.
The benefits of the new law are simple but incredibly powerful. California will feed more people, waste fewer resources, and dramatically reduce methane. In addition, the separated organic waste will also be used to create renewable natural gas, mulch or nutrient-rich compost that can help restore resources to our soil. The use of this compost by our communities can be widespread in parks, medians, landscaping and farms.
The status quo has a significant environmental cost, so we need to find a way to make these changes. It is a question of priorities. Government regulations and market forces can be levers we use to help us change, but we will also all need to learn new, simple habits. Soon, sorting organics, like recycling a soda can, will be second nature to San Diego.
Just don’t throw our food in the trash.