DAVIS, Calif. (AP) – Banana peels, chicken bones and leftover vegetables will not have a place in California trash under the nation’s largest mandatory residential food waste recycling program set to enter in force in January.
The effort is designed to keep the US state’s most populous landfills from degrading atmosphere-damaging food waste. When food scraps and other organic matter break down, they emit methane, a greenhouse gas that is more potent and more damaging in the short term than carbon emissions from fossil fuels.
To avoid these emissions, California plans to start converting residents’ food waste into compost or energy, becoming the second state in the United States to do so after Vermont launched a similar program last year.
Most people in California will have to throw excess food in the green bins rather than the trash cans. Municipalities will then turn food waste into compost or use it to create biogas, an energy source similar to natural gas.
âThis is the biggest change to waste since recycling began in the 1980s,â said Rachel Wagoner, director of the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery.
She added that it is “the easiest and fastest thing any person can do to bring about climate change.”
The California push reflects a growing recognition of the role food waste plays in environmental degradation in the United States, where up to 40% of food is wasted, according to the United States 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 charity, but the California program targets households and businesses.
The state passed a law in 2016 aimed at reducing methane emissions by significantly reducing food waste. Organics like food and yard waste make up half of everything in California landfills and a fifth of the state’s methane emissions, according to CalRecycle.
As of January, all cities and counties that provide trash can services are expected to have food recycling programs in place and grocery stores are required to donate edible food that would otherwise be thrown away at food banks or similar organizations. .
âThere’s no reason to put this material in a landfill, it just happens to be cheap and easy to do,â said Ned Spang, faculty director for 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 prohibits residents from throwing their food waste in the trash. Under a law that came into force in July 2020, residents can compost waste in their yards, opt for curbside collection or drop it off at waste stations. Cities like Seattle and San Francisco have similar programs.
California law states that by 2025, the state must reduce organic waste in landfills by 75% from 2014 levels, from about 23 million tonnes to 5.7 million tonnes.
Most local governments will allow apartment owners and residents to throw excess food in garden bins, with some providing counter top containers to hold leftovers for a few days before taking them out. Some areas may get exemptions for certain parts of the law, such as rural areas where bears rummage in garbage cans.
Food waste will be sent to composting or anaerobic digestion energy conversion facilities, a process that creates biogas that can be used like natural gas for heating and electricity.
But California composting facilities face a strict licensing process to take food waste alongside traditional green waste like leaves, and only a fifth of state facilities can currently accept food waste.
The state has also set a 2025 goal of diverting 20% ââof food that would otherwise go to landfills to feed those in need. Supermarkets are due to start donating their food surpluses in January, and hotels, restaurants, hospitals, schools and large event venues will start donating in 2024.
The donation portion of California law will contribute to the federal goal of halving food waste by 2030.
Davis is one of the California cities that already have a mandatory food recycling program. Joy Klineberg, a mother of three, puts coffee grounds, fruit peels and kitchen scraps in a metal bin labeled “compost” on her counter. When preparing dinners, she dumps excess food from the cutting board into the trash.
Every few days, she throws the contents into her green outdoor trash can which is picked up and sent to a county facility. Unpleasant odors from countertop trash cans weren’t a problem, she said.
âAll you change is where you throw things, it’s just another trash,â she said. “It’s really easy, and it’s amazing how much less junk you have.”
The implementation of similar programs in large cities is more difficult.
The two most populous cities in the state – Los Angeles and San Diego, which together represent about one in eight Californians – are among the cities that will not have their programs ready for all households next month.
This is because it takes time to buy the necessary equipment, like green bins for homes that don’t already have one for yard waste and to set up facilities to take the material. Garbage collection costs will increase in many places.
Like Davis, CalRecycle wants to focus more on education and less on punishment. Governments can avoid sanctions by telling the state themselves by March if they don’t have programs in place and outlining plans to start them. Cities that refuse to comply could potentially be fined up to $ 10,000 per day.
Ken Prue, deputy director of the San Diego Department of Environmental Services, said the city has invested nearly $ 9 million in this year’s budget to purchase more trash cans, kitchen containers and trucks to transport waste additional.
Prue hopes San Diego residents quickly realize the importance of recycling food waste after the program begins next summer.
âI hope before they know it it will become second nature,â he said.