California is set to enact the largest mandatory food waste recycling program in the United States soon in January, with the goal of drastically reducing organic landfill waste and reducing the state’s methane emissions.
When scraps of food like banana peels, vegetable scraps, and other organic materials break down, they release methane, a greenhouse gas that is stronger and more harmful in the short term than CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. According to CalRecycle, organic materials like food and garden waste make up one-fifth of the state’s methane emissions and half of all California landfills.
California plans to start turning food waste into compost or energy to avoid those emissions, making it the second state to do so after Vermont started a similar program last year.
“This is the biggest change in waste since recycling began in the 1980s,” said Rachel Wagoner, director of the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery.
Most California residents throw excess food in the green waste bins, not in the trash. The municipalities will then compost the food waste or use it to produce biogas, an energy source similar to natural gas.
Recycling food waste “is the easiest and fastest thing any individual can do to affect climate change,” said Wagoner.
The efforts reflect the growing recognition of the role food waste plays in harming the environment. According to the US Department of Agriculture, up to 40% of food in the US is wasted.
A handful of states and countries, including France, have passed laws requiring grocery stores and other large businesses to recycle excess food or donate it to charities, but the California program is aimed at households and businesses. In 2016, California passed law aimed at reducing methane emissions by significantly reducing the amount of food discarded.
Starting in January, all cities and counties that offer garbage services are expected to have food recycling programs and grocery stores will have to donate edible food that would otherwise be thrown on blackboards or similar organizations.
“There’s no need to put this material in a landfill, it’s just cheap and easy,” said Ned Spang, director of the Food Loss and Waste Collaborative at the University of California, Davis.
Vermont, home to 625,000 people compared to nearly 40 million in California, is the only other state that bans residents from throwing their food waste in the trash. According to a law that came into force in July 2020, residents can compost the garbage in their yards, choose to pick it up at the roadside or drop it off at garbage stations. Seattle and San Francisco have similar programs.
New California law requires the state to reduce landfill organic waste by 75% from 2014 levels, or from about 23 million tons to 5.7 million tons, by 2025.
Most local governments allow homeowners and apartment residents to dispose of excess groceries in garden trash cans, and some place countertop containers to hold the trash for a few days before taking it outside. Some areas may receive exemptions for parts of the law, e.g. B. rural areas where bears rummage in trash cans.
The food waste is composted or converted into energy through anaerobic digestion, a process that creates biogas that, like natural gas, can be used for heating and electricity.
But only a fifth of California’s composting facilities are allowed to accept food waste, and they have to go through a rigorous permit process to take food waste alongside traditional green waste like leaves.
The state has also set a goal of diverting 20% ââof the food that would otherwise end up in landfills by 2025 in order to feed people in need. Supermarkets must start donating their excess groceries in January, and hotels, restaurants, hospitals, schools and large venues will do so from 2024. The donation part of the law contributes to the federal goal of halving food waste by 2030.
Davis, California already has a mandatory food recycling program. Joy Klineberg throws coffee grounds, fruit peels and cooking scraps into a metal container labeled âCompostâ on her counter. When preparing dinner, she empties excess food from the cutting board into the rubbish bin.
Every few days she throws the contents into her green waste bin outside, which is picked up and sent to a district facility. Unpleasant smells on the countertop were not a problem, she said.
“All you change is where you throw things, it’s just another trash can,” she said. “It’s really easy and it’s amazing how much less rubbish you have.”
Implementing similar programs in larger cities is more difficult.
Los Angeles and San Diego, the state’s two most populous cities, which together make up about one in eight Californians, are among those who won’t have their programs ready for every household over the next month.
Because it takes time to procure the necessary equipment, such as green waste bins for households that do not yet have one for garden waste, and to set up facilities for material removal. Garbage collection fees will rise in many places.
CalRecycle also wants to focus more on education and less on punishment. Governments can avoid penalties by reporting to the state themselves by March if they haven’t set up programs and outlining plans to launch them. Cities that refuse to abide by it could end up being fined up to $ 10,000 a day.
Ken Prue, assistant director of San Diego’s environmental division, said the city invested nearly $ 9 million in this year’s budget to buy more trash cans, countertop bins, and trucks to carry the extra trash.
Prue hopes that after the program starts next summer, San Diego residents will quickly realize the importance of recycling food waste.
“Hopefully before you know it it becomes second nature,” he said.