Listed below are recent posts across all of CalRecyle's blogs.
This is California Healthy Soils Week, and today is Food Waste and Compost Day. The thin layer of carbon, minerals and microorganisms known as soil provides the basis for life on this planet as we know it, so it is worth celebrating.
Worldwide, cultivated soils have lost between 50 and 80 percent of their soil carbon. Carbon is the stuff that makes soil look rich and black. In California, we have agricultural soils with critically low soil carbon. Tilling exposes soil carbon to the air, allowing it to vaporize as carbon dioxide. Millions of tons of previously soil-based carbon have moved to the atmosphere, contributing to our global climate problem. Carbon in the soil feeds underground microbial life, a critical component of soil health. High-carbon, high-microbe soils grow healthy, resilient crops that need less water and fertilizer.
Soil can absorb millions of tons of carbon dioxide from the air worldwide. Building soil carbon is possibly the most effective way to slow and even reverse a changing climate.
How do we build soil carbon? The fastest and easiest way is by using compost and mulch. The California compost community takes millions of tons of lawn trimmings and food waste annually and transforms these discards into valuable mulches and soil amendments. You can help by putting only clean, biodegradable organics in your “green” bin (if your waste management service provides one), and by purchasing compost and mulch for your yard. You can also compost at home.
Compost contains about 22 percent carbon, and it also provides a diverse community of micro-organisms. Plants that grow in soil with a diverse and robust microbial life will be bigger and stronger, and will pull more carbon out of the air for photosynthesis. But plants do not use all of the carbon they sequester from the air. They pump some of it into the ground through their roots, attracting friendly soil organisms and growing the carbon pool again.
Once we understand the environmental power of soil, it makes sense to have a week to celebrate it. In 2015, we celebrated the International Year of the Soil … and 2016 was the International Year of the Pulses.
A pulse is a legume that produces a dry grain, not a green vegetable. If you are experiencing dwindling yields in your backyard garden, consider using compost and planting a cover crop that includes pulses. A cover crop helps keep roots in the soil at all time, which feeds soil microorganisms. It also protects the soil surface from sun and erosion. When cover crops are cut down, the roots become part of the soil carbon pool. Legumes also take nitrogen out of the air (our atmosphere is about 78 percent nitrogen) and “fix” it into the soil. Some cover crops can fix as much as 200 pounds per acre of nitrogen into soil, helping to fuel next year’s crops.
It’s time to give the soil the respect and protection it deserves. Compost, mulch, and cover crops are sustainable ways to build healthy soils and help prepare for whatever Mother Nature throws at us next.Posted on In the Loop by Robert Horowitz on Dec 6, 2017
CalRecycle oversees the state’s recycling and waste management programs to achieve a society that uses less, recycles more, and takes resource conservation to higher and higher levels. More than 30 percent of California’s waste stream is organics like yard trimmings and food waste—materials perfectly suited for value-added products such as compost, fertilizer, and biofuels. Doing so cuts pollution, combats climate change, and creates jobs.
One of the lesser-known challenges we face in managing organic waste to better and higher uses is something all too familiar to our agriculture industry: invasive pests. Such insects and the diseases they carry can threaten our crops and trees—and when they do, it increases the amount of organic waste we must responsibly manage.
Palm weevils—a particularly invasive species wreaking havoc on Southern California’s palm trees—are one example. Palm weevils are beetles with large snouts that burrow into the trunk of the palms, eventually causing the crown of the tree to collapse and the tree to die.
Under laws enforced locally and by agencies such as the California Department of Food and Agriculture, infested organic materials are quarantined and fully composted before leaving the quarantine zone. With a mission to reduce how much organic waste goes to landfills, where it produces harmful greenhouse gas emissions, CalRecycle partners with CDFA to educate Californians on how to prevent the spread of invasive pests in organic materials.
The transportation of yard waste and woody debris can transfer pests and diseases from one location to another. To prevent or slow the spread of pests, agriculture officials conduct trapping, eradicate pests when found, and enforce quarantines. If not managed correctly, these invasive species can destroy food crops and undermine our economy.
Every county within California faces unique challenges to prevent the spread of deadly pests and disease. CalRecycle and CDFA recently presented specialized training at CDFA’s annual Pest Prevention University, providing local officials with information on how to safeguard California ecosystems and promote stronger collaboration.
When clearing organic material from your yard, keep an eye out for unhealthy foliage or pest insects. If you find infested material, cover it immediately with a tarp and contact the CDFA Pest Hotline (800-491-1899).Posted on In the Loop by Christina Files on Nov 9, 2017
California is one of the largest food-producing states in the nation, yet 1 in 8 Californians faces food insecurity. This is all the more frustrating given we throw away more than 5.5 million tons of food every year and much of it is still edible, wholesome, and safe for consumption. Food labels often confuse consumers, which either leads them to toss food into the trash prematurely or discourages them from donating it.
But help is on the way! Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law AB 1219 (Eggman, Chapter 619, Statutes of 2017), the California Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. This law helps clarify protections for food donors, who sometimes hesitate to donate food for fear of civil and criminal liability.
What many don’t know is that food with an expired “sell by” date can still be safe to eat and safe to donate. This date is primarily intended for retailers to help them track when a product should be sold or removed from a shelf. It is not a “don’t use after” date. AB 1219 aims to increase food donations by clarifying and increasing liability protections for donors.
The law will provide liability protection for:
- food donations that have exceeded the sell-by date,
- food donations that are made directly to end-users (rather than through a nonprofit food recovery intermediary), and
- “gleaners” who harvest directly from an agricultural crop that has been donated by the owner.
The bill aims to reduce the amount of food we throw away and divert it to those in our state who need it most. AB 1219 clarifies the scope and provisions outlined in existing California laws and the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act, a federal law signed into effect by President Bill Clinton in 1996.
Diverting food waste from landfills has environmental benefits as well. Food waste comprises about 18 percent of the material disposed in California landfills, the highest amount of any material. When food waste is landfilled, it decomposes and emits methane gas, a super pollutant that intensifies climate change. Climate change impacts California’s air quality, threatens our economy including food production, and contributes to an increase in health afflictions like asthma.
Simply put, diverting food waste from landfills helps protect public health by combatting food insecurity and fighting climate change. Every ton of food diverted from a landfill prevents 2.08 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from being released into the atmosphere.
CalRecycle is providing $5 million in grants this year through its Food Waste Prevention and Rescue Grant Programs. These efforts are part of California Climate Investments, a statewide program that uses cap-and-trade funds to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, strengthen the economy, and improve public health and the environment. To learn more about food rescue efforts and food banks, visit CalRecycle’s website.Posted on In the Loop by Christina Files on Oct 30, 2017