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Hundreds of US Cities Composting Their Food Waste Helps Farmers and Cuts Tons of Emissions

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Last week, new water restrictions issued for millions of residents of Southern California highlighted the need to make agriculture more efficient—and a new statewide composting mandate is providing the solution.

California leads the nation in food production, which requires a lot of water, and now because they became the second state in the nation after Vermont to make large-scale composting required by law means we can have our produce ‘cake’ and eat it, too.

Compost Awareness Week, which begins today, may sound superficial, but we need to know that farms can grow up to 40 percent more food in times of drought when they use compost—and 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.

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. Not only that, the recycling loop is combatting global warming.

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.

San Francisco-based Recology, an employee-owned company with a workforce of 3,800 operates 8 composting facilities in California, Oregon, and Washington serving nearly 150 communities. In 2020 alone, they recycled over 810,000 metric tons of organic waste, including food scraps and yard trimmings.

“This program gives individuals, communities and entire municipalities a way to do something very useful to help slow climate change—and to help get carbon out of the atmosphere and back into the soil where it belongs,” said Recology’s Robert Reed.

San Francisco’s pioneering food scrap collection program, which was maligned as something that would never work, created momentum for the statewide program.

“We started collecting food scraps separately from other trash in 1996,” Reed told GNN. “At the time, executives at the largest garbage companies were quoted in the trade press saying the San Francisco program had never been tried and would not work. They said our trucks would leak and our new program would fail.”

“In fact, our program worked and continues to work extremely well. San Franciscans have embraced curbside composting of food scraps together with sticks and leaves more than any other city in the country.”

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