Food Waste Composting

Food waste represents approximately 15.5 percent of the material landfilled in California. Many jurisdictions are interested in diverting food waste but are having a difficult time finding local facilities that are permitted to compost food waste. Currently, food waste composting requires a full Compostable Materials Handling Facility Permit, and many stakeholders have indicated that this requirement discourages food waste composting. Other stakeholders indicate that food waste is highly putrescible and odorous, attracts vectors, generates volatile organic compounds, and should require a full compostable materials handling facility permit.

Status of 2010-2011 Projects

  1. Best Management Practices Guidance (Working Group). Staff developed a draft best management practices (BMP) matrix and solicited feedback from stakeholders at a workshop in Sacramento on February 8, 2010. Staff is also visiting composting facilities throughout the state to observe and document food waste composting BMPs. Staff will work with stakeholders to develop a list of potential BMPs for composting green material and food material. These BMPs should help reduce odors, air emissions, vectors, litter, and fires; protect water and air quality; and improve compost safety and quality. BMP suggestions can be sent to Permit Training & Assistance.
  2. Change the definition of Food Material (Informal Rulemaking). CalRecycle staff is researching food waste definitions in other states and will consult with the food waste composting working group to develop a new regulatory definition of food waste in California. The working group will be meeting in 2010, and recommendations will be posted on this Website. A formal rulemaking process to change the definition of food waste will occur after the food waste composting working group’s develops recommendations on changing the food material definition. Suggested changes to the food waste definition can be sent to Permit Training & Assistance.
  3. Link BMPs to Permit Tiers (Regulatory Change). Upon completion of the first two projects, CalRecycle staff will integrate changes in the definition of food material and the BMPs into the permit structure for composting facilities and operations.
  4. Monitor and Support Future Studies (Research). CalRecycle staff will continue to monitor studies on handling food materials with green materials to reduce odors, vectors, air emissions, and water quality impacts.
  5. Best Management Practices Training (Training). CalRecycle staff will partner with stakeholders to develop food waste composting BMP training. CalRecycle partnered with the United States Composting Council for a Compost Operations Training Course on February 22-26, 2010. More than 30 people attended the five-day training at the University of California at Davis. CalRecycle will also co-sponsor the United States Composting Council Compost Operations Training Course on March 7-11, 2011 in Riverside, California.

Approach and History: Regulatory Review and Recommendations

Research and White Paper

To better understand food waste composting issues, during spring 2009 staff visited several compost facilities throughout the state, interviewed stakeholders, reviewed literature on research such as risk assessments, and contacted other states to identify their regulatory approaches to food waste composting. In June 2009, staff completed a draft white paper on food waste composting. The food waste composting white paper and a discussion and request for direction was presented to the Board’s Strategic Policy Development Committee on Oct. 6, 2009, and as a consent item at the Board meeting on Oct. 14, 2009.

Stakeholder Workshops

Stakeholders were invited to provide input on the white paper at two Webinar workshops held in Sacramento on July 28, 2009, and Riverside on Aug. 13, 2009. The document was posted before the workshops for public review. Comments were accepted until Aug. 19, 2009.


The Board approved the following staff recommendations, which will be implemented by CalRecycle staff over a 16-20 month time frame, depending on available resources and stakeholder assistance:

  1. Research and provide Best Management Practices (BMPs) guidance for composting green material and food material to reduce odors, vectors, litter, air emissions, and water quality impacts as well as product safety.
  2. Change the definition of food material in regulation. The changes could include defining the distinction between vegetal food material and other food material and the distinction between organic waste that is generated from industrial food production/manufacturing and other food waste sources, such as residences, restaurants, and grocery stores.
  3. Link BMPs to permit tiers for composting green material and food material.
  4. Continue to monitor and support future studies on handling food materials with green materials to reduce odors, vectors, air emissions, and water quality impacts.
  5. CalRecycle provides Best Management Practices training on food waste composting in partnership with stakeholders to protect the environment and improve compost safety.