Composting Recalled Lettuce from E. Coli Outbreak
Following a nationwide E. coli outbreak, recalled lettuce grown throughout the Salinas Valley is making its way back into the ground as compost, thanks to a California Climate Investment from CalRecycle. A new composting facility in Salinas has already started accepting more than 50 tons of the of the potentially tainted produce, according to the Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority (Salinas Authority).
“It’s stretching our daily processing capacity,” Salinas Authority General Manager Patrick Mathews told United Press International. “It’s coming in by the truckloads.”
E. coli Outbreak Linked to Lettuce
In November, the Centers for Disease Control warned consumers not to eat romaine lettuce grown in California’s Salinas Valley after an E. coli outbreak sickened nearly 70 people in 19 states. The CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, and health authorities from various states continue to investigate the exact source of the strain while encouraging residents, restaurants, retailers, suppliers, and distributors to remove the product from their refrigerators, shelves, and distribution chains.
When sent to landfills, lettuce and other organic waste decomposes and generates methane, a short-lived climate pollutant 70 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Methane is emitted when organic material is buried and decomposes anaerobically, or without oxygen. The U.S. Composting Coalition encourages consumers and businesses to compost the recalled produce instead. The aeration of material in the composting process results in a different chemical reaction, producing far less damaging emissions.
“Industrial-scale composting … achieves the temperatures and holding times to eliminate human pathogens (like E. coli),” notes U.S. Composting Coalition Executive Director Frank Franciosi. “While you don't want to eat the romaine lettuce, there is no reason to put it in a landfill where it will generate methane, a significant greenhouse gas, and cause global climate change.”
CalRecycle’s Climate Change Funds for Composting
Reduce Greenhouse Gases in the Air
With the help of a recent $1.3 million California Climate Investment grant awarded by CalRecycle, the Salinas Authority constructed an aerated static pile compost facility at the Johnson Canyon landfill in Monterey County. Formerly, wood and green materials were chipped at a landfill and shipped as mulch or to a biofuel facility, while food was disposed of in the landfill. The Salinas Authority built its new, fully permitted composting facility this summer. In the fall it began turning green materials and food into compost. The Salinas Authority estimated it would compost 132,000 tons of food and green waste by 2026.
Compost increases soil carbon content and increases its moisture-holding capacity, enabling it to literally pull CO2 out of the air. California law mandates composting facilities process materials at temperatures high enough to kill E. coli and other pathogens.
Funding Available for Organic Waste Recycling
CalRecycle’s Organics Grant program is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide program that puts billions of Cap-and-Trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving human health and the environment—particularly in disadvantaged communities.
Learn more about CalRecycle’s funding opportunities at calrecycle.ca.gov/funding. You can also subscribe to CalRecycle’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Grant and Loan Programs Listserv.