Mandatory composting coming to California in January will change how we dispose food

"We are fighting climate change."
SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- Starting January, there's no more tossing food scraps like banana peels or veggies in the trash. Californians will instead be required to put excess food in waste bins. Cities and counties will then turn the waste into compost, creating an energy source.

"This is the biggest change to our trash since we started recycling in the 1980s," said Rachel Wagoner, the Director of CalRecycle.

Wagoner says it's all about removing food waste from landfills which can damage the atmosphere as it decays.

"So every time we put that banana peel in our organic waste and it is turned into compost or a biogas and gets its next life, we are fighting climate change," said Wagoner.

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She says it is the single, fastest thing every Californian can do on their end.

"If the average household of four people or so diverted all of their organic waste it'd be like taking their car off the road for almost a year," explained Wagoner.

The law will impact both households and businesses.

UC Davis Professor of Food Science and Technology, Ned Spang says the change might be difficult.

"For people to meet the requirements of the law is going to be quite a transition for the state," said Spang.

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Cities and counties will be expected to have food recycling programs in place. Wagoner says San Francisco already does.

Countertop containers are an option to hold scraps for a few days before taking them outside.

"That helps with water conservation, it cuts back on the need for pesticides and fertilizers and is really something that helps our future food and plants grow," said Wagoner.

While grocery stores will have to donate food, it would have thrown away to food banks and others as long as it's edible.

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CalRecycle estimates that organic material like food and yard waste makes up half of what's in California landfills and a fifth of the state's methane emissions.

A new law that might require more effort initially but hopefully with time, will feel like second nature and make a big difference.

"We're trying to address food security, we're trying to address climate change," said Spang

"It's worth the goals in the long run," he continued.

CalRecycle says it will begin enforcement for local jurisdictions on January 1, 2022. In initial implementation, it will focus on compliance assistance and pursue enforcement for egregious offenders. Jurisdictions also have an opportunity to submit a "notification of intent to comply" by March 1, which will give them additional time to comply without facing enforcement actions.

Local jurisdictions are responsible for local enforcement against noncompliant generators starting January 1, 2024.

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