Recovering value from food waste – food that gets thrown away either before or after it spoils – is no longer an unrealistic idea conceived by wistful entrepreneurs and perpetuated by academia. As a society, we have the know-how to extract value from food waste to feed people, animals and soil right here in our communities. What we don’t know is how to marry political will and industry incentive to provide a sound policy framework for this emerging industry.
Late last year, the San Diego City Council approved revisions to the San Diego municipal code’s recycling ordinance. The revisions, set to go into effect July 1, are designed to provide funding for the city’s Zero Waste Plan and require that food waste can only be collected and transported by companies that are licensed by the city as franchised haulers.
This franchise requirement would shut down small-scale food waste recycling enterprises at a time when San Diego’s residents and restaurants are screaming for options to divert food waste from ending up in landfills.
Until a few years ago, San Diego had one or two options to recycle food waste. A business located within the city of San Diego could get on a waitlist to participate in Miramar Greenery’s composting program. That program is currently running at full capacity and is not accepting new participants. The second option for businesses in the city – and the only option for businesses in all other jurisdictions of San Diego County – was to compost on site – which, for many food service businesses, wasn’t an option at all since composting can be complicated and requires lots of time and space. While many individuals and community groups attempted to fill the gap, local regulations and exclusive contracts with haulers made the market practically inaccessible to innovators.
In 2015, the nonprofit I run, Inika Small Earth, incubated a social enterprise called Food2Soil. Food2Soil operates as a collective of community gardens, chefs and soil growers who want to manage their food scraps responsibly and resourcefully. By creating hyper-local loops, Food2Soil connects restaurants with their nearest community garden. A soil grower facilitates the transformation of scraps into compost. Food2Soil is funded through the fees paid by participating restaurants and sales of the finished compost. Entities like Food2Soil are not so much a waste diversion approach as they are a resource recovery approach. By sourcing select streams of clean vegetative scraps, Food2Soil makes compost that is teeming with beneficial microbes.
Under the city’s new revisions to its municipal code, Food2Soil and other small businesses that do similar work would not be able to charge restaurants a fee for collecting and recycling food scraps; essentially choking a vital revenue stream and forcing these businesses to close.
We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?
The term "waste" is a human construct. There is no waste in nature, only resources that feed another part of the natural order. Someday -- soon I hope -- policymakers will recognize the folly of landfilling valuable resources. I commend Sarah and everyone who is working to bring human living back into balance with the natural order.
If we -- the adults in the room -- don't do this, we are forcing more difficult choices on our children, and condemning our times being called the "age of waste" -- wasted opportunity, wasted resources, wasted potential.
Those who say something can't be done need to get out of the way of those who are doing it.