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New California law creates opportunities to waste less food

food donation law
Posted at 3:12 PM, Dec 24, 2021

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was estimated that 35 million people across the country suffered from food insecurity. That number has only increased. A new law in San Diego could set the stage for how the country starts to deal with food waste.

Thousands of pounds of food go through a Feeding San Diego facility every day. Patty O’Connor, the chief supply chain officer at Feeding San Diego, says her dad was a huge inspiration to the work she’s doing now.

“My father, who is no longer with us, was doing his own rescue, like fifteen, twenty years ago. He was going to the Trader Joe's every Tuesday and Saturday morning at 6:30 to pick up their leftover food because he knew they were going to throw it away. And he and another elderly gentleman would drive it to a local catholic charity actually, and give it to them every Tuesday and every Friday." O'Connor said.

What her father didn’t know was how his passion would foreshadow a new law in San Diego. 

“He was ahead of the curve. He did that until the day he died," O'Connor said.

The law, which will go into effect at the beginning of 2022, requires grocery stores and other food suppliers to donate all edible food waste to a food rescue organization or food bank.

“The big picture of the law is really wonderful, it’s a win-win all around," O'Connor said.

John Votava, the director of corporate affairs for Ralph’s grocery stores, explains how they have been participating in the work for more than four years.

“The main thing that we felt was validation," Votava said. “Because we had started our zero hunger zero waste social impact plan at all of our stores through the Kroger company but specifically here for Ralphs and this is what we’ve been doing now since 2017, collecting that food and making sure it stays out of landfills and gets into the hands of people who need it the most.”

He believes real change can only be done if every major supplier works together which is something this law will mandate.

“It’s very heartening to know that this food is going to be used for good, it’s going to make this a better place in southern California, by getting rid of the greenhouse gases getting trucks off the roads and just making this a better place to live," Votava said.

According to Recycle Track Systems, the U.S. discards more food than any other country— nearly 40 million tons, which is 80 billion pounds every year. That’s estimated to be 30-40% of the entire U.S. food supply. That equates to about 219 pounds of waste per person. It's as if every person in America threw away more than 650 average-sized apples into the garbage, or rather right into landfills because that’s where most discarded food ends up.

“Seventy percent of the food that we are distributing was donated food and as far as what we expect, that is the big question that everybody has. How much more is this going to increase?" O'Connor said.

We know it will be a lot more because there is still an excessive amount of waste going to landfills. Food waste has irreversible environmental consequences. It wastes the water and energy it took to produce it and generates greenhouse gases, specifically 11% of the world’s emissions. According to the World Wildlife Federation, the production of wasted food in the United States is equivalent to the greenhouse emissions of 37 million cars.

Since this bill was announced, O'Connor says they have received call after call from suppliers who had yet to get involved with food rescue.

“It’s something that people just weren’t realizing. First of all, how much food is wasted every day in our state and in our country, but also how it’s not that hard to donate it. If you have a process in place like we have, and you work with a food recovery organization like Feeding San Diego, Feeding America banks throughout California, it really is possible to do it," O'Connor said.

She hopes this pushes other cities to move in the same direction, however, she points out that people don't need a law to make the change. There are food rescue organizations throughout the country already doing this kind of work.

Currently, California isn’t the only state working to curb food waste. Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont have all passed laws. States like Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin have created task forces.