Food Recovery In San Diego

Source reduction, diverting for reuse and composting are the best combined practices for food scraps management. This article highlights food donation potential in the City of San Diego.

Ana Carvalho

BioCycle March 2013, Vol. 54, No. 3, p. 33

BioCycle West Coast Conference 2013 Preview

San Diego food waste recovery model

San Diego is the seventh largest city in the U.S. It is also part of San Diego County, ranked by Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap 2012 as the seventh county in the U.S. with the highest number of food insecure individuals in 2010. According to Feeding America, 14.8 percent of the region is in the food insecure individuals category.

As the City of San Diego (City) expands its commercial food scraps composting program from the current 60 participants, this alarming data is always in mind, and used to educate about the importance of source reduction and food reuse before composting. Unfortunately, some participants still fear the food reuse option. Although some do reuse their edible food excess, in a recent analysis of our program we calculated that if at least 15 percent of current participants’ food waste was edible and diverted for reuse instead of composting, approximately 666 tons/year of food would be available for food insecure residents and/or other reuse options such as animal feed.

With 14.8 percent of the San Diego region in the food insecure individuals category, increasing food donation is an integral part of the city’s organics program.

With 14.8 percent of the San Diego region in the food insecure individuals category, increasing food donation is an integral part of the city’s organics program.

Based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate of 1.2 lbs of food/meal, that excess 666 tons of edible food could be turned into 1,109,464 meals/year. In other words, by donating just 15 percent of edible food scraps, we could feed 2.5 meals/individual/day to the 448,000 food insecure individuals estimated by the County of San Diego for 2010. There also are tax deduction and tipping fee avoidance benefits. The Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section, “Allowable Deductions for Charitable Donations to Ordinary Income Property,” permits significant tax benefits for organizations donating food to charitable organizations. And if all program participants had donated 15 percent of their edible food they would have avoided $14,652/ year on tipping fees at the Miramar Greenery where collected food scraps are composted. Furthermore, Feeding America’s Map the Gap 2012 estimates that the cost of a meal in the County of San Diego is $2.68. The savings generated by those 1,109,464 meals/year are equivalent to $2,973,363/year. What an incredible social, and environmental, opportunity!

Albertsons Grocery Case Study

This ideal food scraps diversion loop is now being achieved in the City of San Diego through Albertsons Grocery Stores and Feeding America Food Bank’s programs. Albertsons first repurposes the excess food, such as turning unsold daily bread into garlic bread or croutons, or unsold rotisserie chicken into chicken salad. Food that can’t be repurposed in the stores is donated to the San Diego Feeding America Food Bank (FAFB) through its Fresh Rescue Program. The stores only compost the remaining inedible food scraps. The San Diego FAFB donates the food to people in need, composting a very small portion of what it receives.

Food that cannot be donated, along with floral waste, is diverted to composting from a San Diego grocery store.

Food that cannot be donated, along with floral waste, is diverted to composting from a San Diego grocery store.

These two organizations achieved zero food waste to the landfill and zero edible food waste to compost, by combining their purpose to feed people and their social and environmental responsibility. As a bonus, significant cost avoidance in tipping fees was realized. The average annual food waste disposal from an Albertsons Store in San Diego is as follows: Rendering raw meat and oil–14 tons/year; Food donation–56 tons/year; and Food and floral composting–97 tons/year.

It is understandable that many food scraps generators are hesitant to participate in a food donation program. They need to be informed about the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act passed by Congress in 1996 protecting donors of nonperishable and prepared foods, such as manufacturers, growers, restaurants, corporate cafeterias and caterers, from being prosecuted for liability. This Act is the last piece that allows food generators to participate in the perfect food scraps diversion loop.

Ana Carvalho is an Environmental Specialist with the City of San Diego (CA) Environmental Services Department.

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