California leads the nation in food production, which requires a lot of water and new water restrictions issued for millions of residents of Southern California highlighted the need to make agriculture more efficient. A new statewide composting mandate is providing the solution. They became the second state in the nation after Vermont to make large-scale composting required by law.
Food waste makes up nearly 20% of the stuff in our landfills. When that food decomposes, it releases methane; tens of times more potent than carbon dioxide, it’s one of the main greenhouse gasses fueling the climate crisis, and landfills are the third-largest source of methane emissions in the U.S.
More than 200 cities across the country, and many universities, have followed San Francisco’s lead and implemented curbside collection of food scraps for composting. In compliance with the new law—(SB 1383) requiring California cities to reduce landfilling of compostable materials by 75 percent by 2025—cities up and down California are establishing curbside programs that provide bins for food scraps, sticks, and leaves, so they can be turned into ‘black gold’ compost for farmers.
City composting programs produce thousands of truckloads of finished compost that go onto farms, orchards, and vineyards, creating a natural sponge that attracts and retains moisture. When citizens dump their coffee grounds and banana peels into a bin for pick up, they are feeding the soil, while guarding against water shortages and farms can grow up to 40 percent more food in times of drought when they use compost.
San Francisco’s pioneering food scrap collection program, which was labeled as something that would never work, created momentum for the statewide program. That citywide green-bin program has diverted 2.5 million tons of compostable material from the landfill, which not only saved landfill space and eliminated thousands of tons of methane emissions, but also helped local farms grow more healthy food, using less water and less fertilizer.
Delegations from 135 counties have traveled to San Francisco to view this program firsthand, which was implemented later at UC Berkeley and UC Davis, in Marin County and 11 cities in San Mateo County. Other cities adopting the trend—Portland, Seattle, Denver and Boulder, St. Paul and Minneapolis, Baltimore, Anchorage, Eugene, Cambridge, and Ann Arbor, Michigan—proving the program is a WIN for landfills, farmers, and the planet.