With 2023 well underway, it is important to take some time to reflect on last year in order to plan for this one. Taking a moment to reflect is key to setting up goals that align with your values, are efficient, effective, and achievable, and push you out of your comfort zone.
In this article, I will:
- discuss Food Finders’ impact in 2022,
- reflect on the implementation of SB 1383, and
- provide three key ideas that Food Finders must keep in mind for the new year.
Food Finders: Statistics in 2022
In 2022, Food Finders continued its mission of reducing food waste by reallocating edible surplus to those who are food insecure throughout Southern California. The organization rescued 13,386,801 pounds of food and provided 11,155,668 meals. Through their rescues, Food Finders diverted 7,269,033 million pounds of C02 emissions and saved 6,104,381,256 gallons of water. Food Finders’ mission is to simultaneously reduce food waste and food insecurity through strategic surplus diversion and reallocation. These environmentally conscious goals mitigate the effects of climate change and provide much needed food. Finding methods that solve multiple problems at once is the kind of thinking that guides us closer to a sustainable future.
SB 1383: California’s Law to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
On September 19, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 1383 into law which established a statewide initiative to reduce emissions produced by short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP). The targets aim to reduce edible food and organic waste disposal by 75% by 2025, and to rescue at least 20% of disposed edible food to be allocated for human consumption by 2025. The law actually expands upon AB 341 (Mandatory Commercial Recycling) and AB 1826 (Mandatory Commercial Organics) which focused on commercial waste diversion and recycling. SB 1383, on the other hand, applies similar guidelines to residents and property managers and owners. Under the bill—which went into effect on January 1, 2022—jurisdictions are required to provide “organic waste collection services to all single-family and multifamily residences.”
The efforts to reduce food waste reflect the increasing threat greenhouse gases pose for Californians, especially to those with health conditions. In California, organic waste left in landfills release 20% of all methane, a gas that is a “climate super pollutant 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.” According to the EPA, reducing the presence of food and organic waste in landfills in the United States helps reduce climate change since more than 15% of methane emissions caused by humans come from municipal solid waste landfills. In 2019, those landfills emitted almost 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent of methane. California’s dumps in landfills are 50% food scraps, yard trimmings, and cardboard which reflects the need for more conscious efforts when throwing away trash.
SB 1383: Changes, Progress, and What’s Next
According to Waste Dive, California estimates that it will need to prevent 27 million tons of organic waste from ending up in landfills annually by 2025. Unfortunately, 18 million tons of the waste is not “eligible for edible food recovery.” One challenge that companies are facing with implementation lies in the composting infrastructure and equipment to meet the requirements. Some owners have resorted to either selling their businesses to larger competitors or finding new investors.
One major effect that has threatened the timeline is the COVID-19 pandemic. The start of the pandemic impacted the 2020 goals and now California is under pressure to “make up for lost time.” On September 8, 2022, the Hearing on Organic Waste Recycling was held during which Shereen D’Souza, CalEPA’s deputy secretary for climate policy and intergovernmental relations, stated that “it makes sense that the 2020 diversion rates required in 1383 were not met” since the regulations of SB 1383 only became enforceable in 2022. Despite these setbacks, D’Souza concluded that “local jurisdictions are making a lot of progress” since January of last year.
The most notable changes have been the arrival of waste bins for residents to use. CalRecycle believes that most jurisdictions have adopted the “standard” model or the three-bin system which might be the case since the law’s regulations make “three carts the smoothest path to compliance.” Overall, it is still too early to determine the total effects of SB 1383’s implementation. The Little Hoover Commission, an independent state oversight agency, is currently conducting a study that will “assess how California’s organics recycling law is implemented, examine what impact it has on the state’s environmental goals, and provide recommendations to the Governor and Legislature for any changes.”
Three Key Areas for Food Finders
As Food Finders’ Community Outreach and Advocacy Intern, I have been tasked with reaching out to different organizations in the industry to understand what their goals are and how they became involved in policy and advocacy work. Over the past few months, I have met with several local and out-of-state organizations who are focused on ending food insecurity, food waste, or like Food Finders, work at the intersection of both issues. Each organization has provided me with insight that exposes their core values which inform their goals and plans regarding policy advocacy. From these meetings, I have compiled three major takeaways that should guide Food Finders in its development of a policy and advocacy agenda that creates lasting systemic change.
Grounding the policy work in the community
In every single meeting I have had so far, the importance of community has been at the forefront of the conversation. The idea that policy should address the needs of a community cannot be more obvious, and yet, it is often inexplicably neglected. The community should always be involved in decision-making that affects their lives because they carry knowledge that is crucial to their own betterment and longevity. When the policy doesn’t represent the people or align with the community values and concerns, even the kindest intentions are rendered useless without consent and accordance on multiple levels.
One way to create a space for this kind of dialogue is through the inception of a community-led policy council. Oregon Food Bank, an Oregon-based organization that aims to address the root causes of hunger in order to eradicate it, created its Policy Leadership Council in 2021. The Council is composed of community members who are BIPOC, LGBT, have experienced food insecurity and “some sort of oppression” in their lives. Simply put, the Council is made of community members and the community informs the direction of their advocacy. Without input from the Council, the Board would not know how best to address the issues that impact their community.
Taking the pulse of the community
Taking the pulse of the community regarding food insecurity and food waste is crucial before taking the next step towards policy advocacy. Since Food Finders focuses on finding food (as well as distributing, reallocating, and reducing waste), understanding how the community views the issues of food insecurity, waste, and its impact on the environment is important. Simply asking the questions of What do they know? and What do they want to know? can open up a dialogue and clear the pathway toward aligning food waste and insecurity policies with the values of the community.
Recognizing the social issues that impact food insecurity
My third and final takeaway encompasses not just food insecurity, but what causes food insecurity. A lack of food does not equal food insecurity which is why more food (read: food waste and overproduction) is not the solution to this persistent problem. Other social circumstances that affect food insecurity are poverty or low income, lack of affordable housing, lack of access to healthcare, and systemic racism and racial discrimination. Thus, addressing the root causes of food insecurity has to be a priority in order to do more than place a band-aid on an already infected wound. Addressing issues such as homelessness, low wages, and affordable housing is what can eliminate food insecurity once and for all.
Homelessness and food insecurity
In 2022, California contributed to 30% of the country’s homeless population even though the state makes up less than 12% of the country’s total population. According to CalMatters, California’s homeless population grew by 22,000 during the pandemic. Although the state’s investment in shelters is “bearing fruit,” there still isn’t enough “permanent, affordable housing to bring people indoors for good.” On February 24, 2022, the “Homeless Count” in Long Beach determined that 1,801 people were living on the streets or other locations, 485 people were found living in cars, vans, and RVs, and 1,009 people were living in emergency shelters and transitional housing programs. Since 2020, there has been a 123% increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness who are sheltered in Long Beach. As we know, newly-elected Mayor Rex Richardson (who recently visited my college campus), undoubtedly has made it clear that homelessness, an issue that affects everyone and spans across the state of California, is a major priority for his administration. During his State of the City on January 10, 2023, Mayor Richardson listed homelessness and stable housing as the first key area to address in his first 100 days.
Another area the pandemic affected was food insecurity. The pandemic exacerbated food insecurity across the nation with the USDA reporting that 13.5 million US households were food insecure in 2021. According to the California Association of Food Banks, 8 million California residents struggle with food insecurity and in Los Angeles County, 30% of low-income residents don’t know where their next meal will come from. Homelessness and hunger are very much linked to one another since individuals experiencing homelessness are often food insecure.
Edible Food Waste: The Solution to Feeding Long Beach’s Homeless Population?
Mayor Richardson’s decision to tackle homelessness in Long Beach is commendable and shows a dedication to all the residents of the city, even the ones who are often invisible. This hefty endeavor will require cooperation and collaboration between different levels of government, various sectors and industries, and the local community. According to Stanford’s Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), accelerated production of affordable housing, reforms to the criminal justice system, and vast improvements in mental health care are crucial to address California’s homeless problem. Although hunger wasn’t explicitly identified, caring for unhoused residents includes addressing their most basic needs.
Food waste is an issue that often flies under the radar. Consumers rarely stop and wonder what happens to those packed shelves and towering fruit displays when the store closes. In reality, 30% of the food in American grocery stores is thrown away while a significant amount of food doesn’t even make it to shelves due to cosmetic “imperfections.” Food Finders already works hard to intercept food destined for the landfills so that perfectly edible food can be enjoyed by those who need it throughout Southern California. The bottom line is that there is enough food out there. SB 1383 requires that at least 20% of edible food is recovered for human consumption by 2025, which will result in a “boom” in rescued food. It might be worth noting for Mayor Richardson’s administration that when they are searching for a way to feed the city’s unhoused residents, the food might already be there.
What Can You Do To Help?
Food Finders works daily to change how edible food waste is distributed to eliminate hunger and food insecurity. If you would like more information, please visit our website, volunteer, or support our mission to eliminate hunger and food waste by making a donation today.
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Nickee O’Bryant is the Community Outreach and Advocacy Intern at Food Finders. She is a senior at California State University, Long Beach and is studying International Studies and French and Francophone Studies. Through monthly blog posts, Nickee documents her journey as she learns more about food insecurity, food waste, and how they are interconnected.