California Tackles Food Waste

Posted by on Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

You’ve heard it before–to act on climate, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Methane is one of those potent greenhouse gases with natural and human sources. In nature, methane is emitted by wetlands, termites, and the ocean. Human sources include agriculture and other organic wastes (food, paper, yard waste) that end up in landfills.

In California, 8.3 million tons of greenhouse gases are released each year from uneaten food and other sources of organic wastes, contributing to 20% of California’s total methane emissions. How can we build a cleaner future with this knowledge in mind? We can start by reducing food waste.

Here in LA, the City of LA’s sustainability pLAn is helping to reduce food waste and food insecurity in Los Angeles. The city’s RecycLA program allows food business owners and multi-family residences to donate edible surplus food. Rather than introducing more waste into the waste stream, food ineligible for donation can be tossed into green bins for composting. By 2025, LA hopes to divert 1.1 million tons of total waste from landfills annually, resulting in2 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions eliminated. In the presence of local and statewide efforts to reduce food waste, even small collective actions can result in an exponential scale of greenhouse gas reduction.

The Golden State is also stepping up to reduce waste and food-related greenhouse gases. In October 2017, Governor Brown signed three new laws to help divert food from landfills, addressing everything from confusing food labeling to food donation rights.

California Good Samaritan Food Donation Act

AB 1219, also known as the California Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, was authored by Assemblymember Susan Eggman. This new law will protect food donors. Until recently, households and businesses have been cautious about donating food due to liability issues. This bill works to clarify and expand existing protections for food donors. Before this law, food donors were not legally protected for donating directly to final recipients, nor were they protected when food was donated after the sell-by date. In general, people have been unaware of their rights and protections as food donors. Now, Californians can safely donate food that has exceeded the sell-by date, including citizens, businesses and  gleaners (people who harvest crops for free distribution and donation). A key component of this law is the education aspect, in which public health inspectors are required to promote Good Samaritan laws through newsletters, bulletins, and handouts.

Food Labeling: Quality and Safety Dates

You know how hard it is to interpret the dates we see on food packaging, such as “sell by” and “best if used by” dates? To address confusion with dates on food labels, Assemblymember David Chiu authored AB 954 ( “Food labeling: quality and safety dates”). This new law will encourage food manufacturers, processors, and retailers to use uniform terms for food date labels to avoid confusion among consumers. Because the sell-by date exists as a reference for stock rotation in grocery stores, food distributors and retailers are encouraged to develop an alternative system for “sell by” dates that will not be visible to consumers. Similar to AB 1219, this law creates a Consumer Education Fund within the California Department of Food and Agriculture to educate consumers on food label jargon.

Food Donation and Schools

Food waste is also prominent in schools and educational settings. To address this issue, Senator Ed Hernandez wrote SB 557, which allows schools to donate food to food banks. Faculty, staff, and students can place unwanted food on sharing tables, which will then be donated to local food banks and charities. Categories of eligible food items include food in closed containers and protected from contamination, food that has been checked for safety on a daily basis, and unopened food in original packaging. SB 557 gives  schools with the opportunity to address food insecurity, while reducing their contribution to organic waste in landfills.  

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