Listed below are recent posts across all of CalRecyle's blogs.

  • Lettuce in Landfills Leads to Climate Change


    Yes, you read that right. Landfilled organic materials (like landscape trimmings and food waste) produce methane gas, which is a short-lived climate pollutant that negatively affects our environment and contributes to changes in Earth’s temperature and weather patterns.

    Wait a second—doesn’t organic material decompose into compost?

    Yes it does, but only if it’s in the right environment. Composting is a process of organic decomposition, but it requires a special recipe of nitrogen, carbon, water, and air with an extra dash of fungus and bacteria for good measure. The most basic compost recipe calls for blending roughly equal parts green or wet material (which is high in nitrogen) and brown or dry material (which is high in carbon) into a pile or enclosure. Add water and fluff the materials to add air, and then microorganisms break down the material over time.


    Landfills are not an ideal environment for composting because food waste is often enclosed in plastic trash bags, and all waste is buried, removing it from access to water and air. Organic material does decompose over time, but it produces methane gas when it breaks down outside of the composting process. In fact, landfills are the second-largest cause of methane gas in California.

    How bad is methane gas, really?

    Pretty bad. Methane gas has a short life span in our atmosphere in comparison to other greenhouse gases, but it has a stronger potency and does more damage. While carbon dioxide (CO2) is responsible for more than half the warming impact from human-caused emissions, methane is a far more powerful warming agent than CO2. Over a twenty year period, one ton of methane has the warming effect of 72 tons of CO2 . Methane emissions resulting from the decomposition of organic waste in landfills are a significant source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions contributing to global climate change. Methane emissions occur in the production of oil and gas, during drilling and coal extraction, and in food and agriculture waste.

    How do we reduce methane gas in our environment?

    The solution is pretty simple: divert organic materials away from landfills and into composting and anaerobic digestion facilities that produce biofuels. Organic materials account for a significant portion of California’s overall waste stream: up to 37 percent! Eighteen percent of California’s waste stream is comprised of disposed food waste, which includes waste that can be prevented, recovered for donation, or composted.

    In September 2016, Governor Brown signed into law Senate Bill 1383 (Lara, Chapter 395, Statutes of 2016) to dramatically reduce short-lived climate pollutant emissions and to steer California in a new direction for managing organic materials. The law establishes targets to achieve a 50 percent reduction in the disposal of organic waste from a 2014 baseline level by 2020 and a 75 percent reduction by 2025.

    Diverting 75 percent of organic materials from landfills will make a significant impact on California. It will help us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, reduce the amount of trash that we bury in landfills, create new green jobs, and benefit our state’s agricultural sector with soil enriching compost.

    Posted on In the Loop by Christina Files on Mar 9, 2017

  • What would you like your food waste to become?

    Here in California, we’re forging ahead with strategies to reduce food waste, which creates greenhouse gas in landfills, and put the resources we have to their best and highest uses.

    Organic waste in landfills decomposes and generates methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Forty percent—40 percent!—of the material currently going to California landfills is organic waste. Within that 40 percent is a lot of perfectly good food going to waste while people in your community are food-insecure. A lot of that food waste is obviously not edible—but read on to learn what it could become instead.

    CalRecycle is currently working on a framework to implement SB 1383, which passed in November and sets targets to reduce significantly the amount of organic waste going to landfills. SB 1383 also establishes a goal of recovering 20 percent of the amount of edible food waste that is currently disposed and diverting it for human consumption by 2025.

    We are really excited about this. We’re talking to grocers and other businesses that generate a lot of organic waste to get that 40 percent number down quickly—but we all have a role.

    Careful planning can keep you from buying more food than you need at the grocery store, and it will help you save money, too. Figure out how to incorporate your leftovers into another meal. And don’t be afraid to compost—it’s actually pretty simple.

    Sure, meal planning is tedious, and backyard composting is not as convenient as pitching your leftovers into the garbage. Some areas now have organic material pickup, but your waste management rates may have increased as a result of this new service. So it’s important to keep in mind these important greenhouse gas reduction goals, and fellow Californians who are going hungry, as you shop for your groceries and clean up after your meals.

    What do you want your uneaten food to become?

    1.    If you never buy it in the first place, and your grocery store ends up with extra as a result, that food could very likely end up being donated to a food-rescue group and made available to food-insecure people.

    2.    If you compost it in your backyard, it will save you water and enrich your own garden or landscaping, as compost helps soil maintain moisture and returns nutrients to the soil.

    3.    If you put it in an organic waste bin and roll it to the curb (check with your local jurisdiction! Some areas allow this, but many do not):

    • It could become compost for agricultural crops, where water retention ultimately reduces runoff and saves water on a much larger scale, and returns nutrients to the soil on a larger scale, making for more productive crop yields. (Read about California’s Healthy Soils initiative here.)
    • It might even go to an anaerobic digester and be converted into biofuel for city buses—or the waste management trucks that picked up the material in the first place!

    Or …

    4.    You could put it in the garbage and have it go to the landfill every week, where it will decompose along with all the other food waste, and generate more methane that accelerates the dangerous effects of climate change.


    You pick!

    There are a lot of us here on the planet, and a lot of us here in California, sharing a finite space and generating a lot of waste that needs to be managed. A lot of people are hungry, and we’re all breathing the air and drinking the water, so we need to manage the resources we have.

    Posted on In the Loop by Heather Jones on Feb 6, 2017

  • A Compost Bin for Every Challenge

    I live on a raccoon superhighway. We’re pretty close to a river and a creek, and the savvy critters use the storm drains to travel. This is fun for me and my neighbors—we get to see them shimmying up trees late at night, and sometimes they bring their little ones to the neighbor’s koi pond so they can learn to fish. (OK, maybe that’s not so cute.) There are also skunks, opossums, and the occasional rat family. The rats have been known to use the warmth of a compost pile to make a cozy nest for their babies.

    This makes composting kitchen scraps not impossible, but a little tricky. An open bin will not work for us, as rat families are not welcome. We have a plastic tumbling compost bin, which gets the job done and keeps the critters out, but it’s hard to open, and I have to remember to crank it every day or so.

    I think I found the perfect solution for my yard. A little gem of a publication on the CalRecycle website called Building your Own Composting Bin: Designs for Your Community has a bunch of great bin designs. My favorite is a  composter made from a trash can with a tight-fitting lid—it keeps the varmints out while letting in air, and it allows earthworms work their magic without my having to remember to turn the pile.


    This beauty took hardly any time at all to build. We bought the can for $25 at the hardware store, dug a hole in the backyard, drilled some holes in the can—in the bottom for the worms to get in and out, and in a ring around the top for air to get in—and we buried the can in the ground. (The directions said to bury the can 15 inches deep, but we were a little overzealous with our digging, so ours is deeper than that.) We won’t need to stir the pile because the worms will aerate it for us. It should be easy to keep smells to a minimum by covering our food scraps with dry leaves or soil (we left the dirt from the hole nearby to make it easy). The lid fits tightly, so hopefully the critters will leave it alone. If the raccoons figure out how to open it, bungee cords through the handles should keep them out. Of course, we won’t put in any meat or dairy scraps, but the worms will love our fruit and veggie scraps. 

    Composting at home is the cheapest, easiest, most Earth-friendly way to keep organic waste out of landfills. The gorgeous soil that’s created keeps our vegetable garden healthy and productive. We’re closing the loop—garden to kitchen, and back to garden again—with a minimum of bother. That’s my kind of DIY project!


    For more on composting, check out this CalRecycle composting guide.

    —Lisa Garner
    Lisa Garner is an environmental scientist at CalRecycle.

    Posted on In the Loop by Lisa Garner on Jun 9, 2016