Opinion: It’s not too late to slow climate change if we recycle organic waste

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Green waste recycling
California Organic Waste Recycling. Image from status video

It’s easy to be discouraged by disastrous government reports showing how little time we have to reverse the effects of climate change. But in San Diego County, every person can make a difference by reducing and recycling organic waste: food scraps and yard scraps.

When organic matter decomposes in the landfill, it creates methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. By reducing the amount of food we waste, donating edible food, and properly recycling the rest, we can make a big difference in mitigating climate change.

Organic matter can be recycled through composting or anaerobic digestion into a nutrient-rich soil amendment or renewable natural gas that both prevents emissions and benefits the environment. Compost applied to 5% of Californian rangelands would sequester nearly 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over three years. And renewable natural gas can replace harmful fossil fuels.

This year, California is making it easier than ever to recycle your organic waste. Here’s what to expect, and how you can prepare for this change and be part of the solution for our climate.

What to expect

Some towns in the San Diego area have already started processing leftover food from homes and businesses. For those who haven’t already, your waste hauler will send a notification with instructions when the service begins and provide you with a green bin to use if you don’t already have one.

This is happening because of Senate Bill 1383, a new California state law that took effect January 1, 2022, that requires Californians to separate our food scraps from waste destined for landfill of the same. how we treat recyclables.

At the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation, we work with cities to provide solutions for residents and businesses to learn how to generate less waste and dispose of it properly to comply with SB 1383. This law has the potential to have a huge impact on the climate. change throughout California, where about 20% of all methane emissions come from landfilled organics. And in San Diego, 36% of our landfill waste is organic. As environmentalists, we are excited to see the impact when San Diegans steps in and makes these simple changes.

make the change

Change is daunting, but it’s easy once you start with small changes and build more lasting habits. Here’s how to start.

  1. Learn what organic waste is. Organic waste is anything that was once alive. Starting this summer, waste haulers will collect leftovers from meal prep, plate scrapings, food soiled paper, spoiled inedible food and grass clippings/yard clippings in these green bins .
  1. See how much organic waste you produce. For an entire day, set aside all your food scraps – trimmings, peelings, junk food, leftovers, bones, etc. – as part of the Solana Center’s Kitchen Caddy challenge. You don’t need a special container, you can just use a large bowl or a bucket. I promise you’ll be surprised at how much food waste ends up in your trash can.
  1. Buy and prepare food wisely. Before heading to the store, check the refrigerator and pantry. Remember that best before and best before dates are guidelines. Rely on your senses to tell you if something has spoiled or is still edible. Create a meal plan to use what you already have and make a shopping list of what’s missing.
  1. Put an organic waste bin in your home. Now is the time to start making a habit of separating your organic waste from the rest of your trash, just like you do with other recyclables. To keep it simple, we recommend using a kitchen cart to collect your leftover food.
  1. No green bin? No problem. If organic waste recycling is not yet available in your neighborhood, you may have a nearby community composting program like the Solana Center Food Cycle. Every 25-pound bucket of food waste you bring to our Encinitas headquarters prevents the equivalent of 17 gallons of carbon dioxide in greenhouse gas emissions from damaging our atmosphere and helps us create compost rich in nutrients for a healthy soil.

In the aftermath of Earth Day, I challenge you to embrace climate optimism. Systemic change comes from the actions of individuals, which have a big impact. Find out how your community is complying with SB 1383, how to reduce the amount of food your family and workplace waste, and how to properly dispose of organic waste.

You can also learn how to compost your organic waste and make nutrient-rich compost for your garden (I promise it’s fun and rewarding!). Throughout the year, the Solana Center offers free workshops on composting, waste reduction and green living.

By properly managing our organic waste, together we can reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Our planet depends on each of us to take care of it.

Jessica Toth is the Executive Director of Solana Center for Environmental Innovation, a San Diego-area environmental nonprofit that focuses on soil, water, and waste. The Solana Center supports San Diego County jurisdictions in rolling out their organic waste reduction, diversion, collection, and recycling plans under SB 1383.

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