For years, farms could use byproducts from grocers, restaurants and other agricultural facilities for feed and bedding. A new bill in the California State Assembly is causing confusion and facing staunch opposition because its passage could result in increased costs and food waste by making it more difficult for farms to receive food byproducts.
Assembly Bill (AB) 2959, introduced by Assembly Member Ian Calderon (D-Whittier), seeks to clarify a previous bill (AB 3036) on how agricultural materials are handled.
According to the assembly bill third reading analysis, “AB 3036 has been interpreted by some to mean any facility that generates food waste is exempt from local solid waste franchise agreements. That was not the intent of the bill.”
Calderon’s bill, “Removes supermarkets, grocers, restaurants, and other retail food establishments from the existing prohibition on the inclusion of ‘industrial sources’ in local solid waste franchises, which would allow local jurisdictions to determine whether or not to include those facilities in their franchise agreements and whether or not to allow those materials to be used as animal feed,” according to the analysis.
Under the bill, food materials would need to be removed only by a designated franchise holder—a trash-hauling company with an existing agreement with a municipality—where it will be hauled. Producers of the byproducts would need to pay to have someone remove them, rather than have someone pay to take them.
Californians Against Waste, a non-profit “environmental research and advocacy organization,” states in their support of the bill, solid waste franchises are tools local governments have in order to achieve the state’s recycling goals and ensure the health and safety of its citizens.
The bill is opposed by Californians for Smarter Recycling, a coalition including California Farm Bureau, California Cattlemen’s Association, Western United Dairies, California Restaurant Association, and California Grocers Association.
The groups contend it will add costs to the businesses already affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and further put them out of business.
“The changes in AB 2959 will disrupt relationships between byproduct producers and agriculturalists that have functioned efficiently for decades. The consequence of the removal of these once locally provided nutrients will mean livestock producers must depend on virgin, imported, and increasingly expensive feed,” Californians for Smarter Recycling said in a press release. “This will result in greater greenhouse gas emissions, counter to the state’s climate goals, and increase costs on both generators of these byproducts and ranchers for no discernable public benefit.”
California Farm Bureau stated in the analysis, “Feeding these byproducts to the state’s livestock industry provides nutrient-dense feed which allows for healthy animals and maximizes production. Its availability also prevents farms and ranches from having to depend upon imported feed, thereby reducing potential environmental impacts. This traditional diversion paradigm also provides a market for this byproduct to be kept out of landfills, helping ensure nothing goes to waste.”
University of California-Davis Professor Dr. Frank Mitloehner in a press release stated, “If AB 2959 passes, the bill will take away a valuable opportunity to upcycle organic waste for animal feed and keep it out of the landfill, where it will release methane.
“We can’t throw blame at our farmers and producers for impacting warming, while taking away an opportunity for them to do their part.”
The Integrated Waste Management Act requires 75 percent of solid waste to be diverted from landfills statewide by 2020. In addition, local governments have been required since 2000 to divert 50 percent of waste generated in their jurisdiction.
Currently, “An estimated 35 million tons of waste are disposed of in California’s landfills annually, of which 32 percent is compostable organic materials, 29 percent is construction and demolition debris, and 17 percent is paper.”
According to Mitloehner, approximately 18 percent of materials that end up in landfills is wasted food. In the U.S., about 30-40 percent of all food is wasted.
Additionally, the California Air Resources Board is required to implement a 40 percent reduction of methane from 2013 levels. To meet the goals of reducing methane emission goals, the disposal of organic waste in landfills needed to be reduced by 50 percent by 2020 and 75 percent by 2025 from the 2014 level.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Municipal solid waste landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States, accounting for approximately 15.1 percent of [methane] emissions in 2018.” — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor