Get On Board For The Climate: Organic Waste

by Martha Walden, What Now Coalition

My last column was all about the Humboldt Climate Challenges we had scheduled throughout the month of March from Rio Dell to McKinleyville. These neighborhood events would have enticed a variety of people to come together to play our climate board game and, in this way, learn the most effective answers for climate change here in Humboldt County. But Nature intervened, and you know the rest. Our events were indefinitely postponed, and we’re staying home much more than usual. These are strange times, and of course, we’re very fortunate to live where we do.

The What Now Coalition is doing more than cooling its heels. 350 Humboldt celebrated Earth Day, along with other members all over the country, with its Stop-The-Money-Pipeline campaign. In addition to having letters to the editor published in local publications, we messaged banks that help fund fossil fuel projects by posting negative reviews, tweets, and audio-visual productions. Check out the videos at youtube 350 Humboldt.

11th Hour has been meeting on the beach and investigating Humboldt County’s obligation to reduce its organic waste by 50% by 2020 and 75% by 2025. California says so in SB 1383. Most green waste is already separated from the waste stream, but more than 5.5 millions tons of food are tossed into landfills in California every year. This waste entails CO2 emissions from the energy required to grow and transport the food. It also emits methane as it rots. Landfills are responsible for 21% of California’s methane emissions.

Vermicomposting bucket (composting with worms.) Photo credit_ Mizzou CAFNR, Creative Commons, Flikr

Methane doesn’t stick around in the atmosphere for nearly as long as CO2, but it is eighty times more potent during the first ten years. So, it’s particularly dangerous right now because we must reduce our emissions by 50% in the next ten years.  In 2000, global methane emissions had almost as much global warming impact as CO2. Drastically reducing short-term climate pollutants, including hydrofluorocarbons and soot as well, could buy us some time.

So what can Humboldt do with its organic waste? Anaerobic digesters would be great. They make fuel out of methane and capture carbon. Composting the waste would be simpler and perhaps more feasible–either at industrial-sized facilities or smaller distributed sites. Trucking it to facilities out of county is an option but would be a loss of a valuable resource. Compost fertilizes soil and sequesters carbon, plus making it creates jobs.

Food For People volunteer. Photo from Food for People Facebook page

Of course, the best option for food is to not waste it to begin with. SB 1383 mandates that the county divert at least 20% of edible food destined for the garbage, and furthermore, salvage it specifically for human consumption. Arcata and Eureka are collaborating with Food for People and Humboldt State University to rescue food before it is sent to the dump. This project netted a $163,657 grant from CalRecycle last year.

SB 1383 also affects how ranches and dairies treat cow manure, the largest source of methane in Humboldt, but that sounds like the topic for another column.