By Kathryn Rogers, SFUSD Board of Directors
With no end in sight to the California drought, local organizations are seeking sustainable solutions to address all aspects of water use. The San Diego Food System Alliance, coordinated by Elly Brown, is collaborating with other local non-profits to process and minimize food waste - a surprising issue of importance in the water conservation dialogue.
According to a recent Natural Resources Defense Council report, getting food from the farm to our forks eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten. This means that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year and wasting a significant amount of water at the same time. What’s more, researchers at the NIH have found that food waste accounts for over 25% of total freshwater consumption. Not to mention the approximately 300 million barrels of oil per year for transporting this wasted food along with the methane and CO2 emissions from decomposing food in our landfills.
The good news is that the state of California recently passed legislation to begin addressing some of these issues. Governor Jerry Brown signed AB1826 in October 2014, which requires local jurisdictions to have an organic waste recycling program in place by January 1, 2016, and businesses to recycle their organic waste by April 1, 2016.
A forward-thinking policy, no doubt, but how will it be implemented locally?
The Food System Alliance is working in San Diego County to create polices and solutions to address huge gaps in terms of infrastructure for handling food waste. Food System Alliance researchers recently estimated that San Diegans produce 500,000 tons of food waste, but local composting facilities can only process an estimated 10,000 tons of this waste. We still have a long way to go.
Public awareness about how much food waste we are producing and how to store and recycle this waste properly is a critical piece to the story as well. “The National Resource Defense Council and Ad Council are doing a national awareness campaign around food waste launching in early 2016, and we plan to dovetail and build upon that locally,” says Brown.
Ground-level efforts are also helping to educate community members about waste issues and engage them in opportunities to create change. The Food System Alliance has collaborated with the Wild Willow Farm, Hidden Resources, and Sweetwater School District to pilot a Food Recovery Program. The Food System Alliance will also convene groups and individuals for a half-day summit on food waste on October 6: the Food Waste Solution Summit.
“Water conservation should not only be happening in our homes but also in our food system as well by creating less waste and encouraging efficiencies,” says Brown.
To learn more about local efforts to conserve water, join the Food System Alliance and other community partners at Slow Food Urban San Diego’s Annual Good Food Community Fair on October 11.