Postcard from California: Food waste law fights hunger and climate change

By Bill Walker

California produces far more food than any other US state, but we throw a lot of it away. Meanwhile, more than one in five Californians don’t always know where their next meal is coming from. Food insecurity is higher among Black and Latino households, and inflation is making the problem worse.

Now the state is aiming to relieve hunger by reducing food waste – and at the same time, help to address climate change.

A state law that was passed in 2016 but took effect this year, requires businesses and facilities that sell or serve food to donate edible food they would otherwise throw out to local food banks. Grocery stores, wholesalers and distributors had to start donating earlier this year. Restaurants, hotels, schools, hospitals, state office cafeterias and event venues must comply by January 2024.

According to the state agency CalRecycle, Californians send more than 11 billion pounds of food to landfills every year. Nationally, about 80 billion pounds of wasted food goes to the dump yearly, making food the single largest constituent of municipal landfills.

Food rescue
While not all discarded food is fit to eat, the newly implemented law – SB 1383 – requires that by 2025 California will recover 20% of wasted food to feed people in need. Washington State has the same goal, but by mandating fines for non-compliance, California’s is the strongest “food rescue” measure in the country.

Rescuing edible food is only one front in the war on food waste.