SACRAMENTO, Calif. — As California grapples with another long drought, cities across the state have implemented curbside collection programs to increase the amount of available water.

What You Need To Know

  • California produces around 13 million tons of compostable material a year

  • The state produces 3.2 million tons of compost each year, which saves 3.7 billion gallons of water

  • SB 1383 requires all California cities to provide curbside compost collection programs

  • California aims to reduce the amount of organic waste in landfills by 75% 

Composting turns food scraps, sticks and leaves into organic material that is then added to soil to make it more fertile.

Robert Reed, spokesperson for Recology, a waste management company, explains compost acts as a natural sponge.

“When we apply compost to a farm, the soil really becomes a water reservoir and farms then don’t have to irrigate as much, they don’t have to water as much because we have rain water that’s deep in the soil,” Reed said.

According to CalRecycle, California currently produces 3.2 million tons of compost, which increases the amount of water held by about 3.7 billion gallons.

“When farms apply compost, they don’t have to water as much ... that leaves water then available for people and for fish and for the environment, and so it helps us get back in balance,” Reed said.

California sends around 40 million tons of waste to landfills each year. Thirty-four percent of the waste could be composted, according to CalRecycle.

Matthew Engelhart, the owner of Be Love Farm in Vacaville, California has made composting the heart of his business.

“Be Love Farm is a 21-acre experiment in regenerative agriculture in Vacaville, California. We are Jack of All Trades and Masters of none. We do everything from asparagus to zinfandel,” Engelhart said.

Engelhart and his wife started Be Love Farm 15 years ago to help the environment.

I love nature and I’ve just always had a connection to agrarian life,” Engelhart said. “I actually graduated from high school and moved into a teepee and started gardening. You know I was a full on back-to-the earth hippy in the 70s and it evolved from there.”

The food grown on Be Love Farm is sold at the store on the property, which runs on a self-serve honor system. Be Love’s produce is also used at Engelhart’s restaurant, Gracias Madre, in San Francisco.

San Francisco was the first city in the nation to launch a curbside compost collection program. The food scraps collected at Engelhart’s restaurant in the city are then taken to a nearby composting facility and later delivered back to the farm as compost. Engelhart says composting provides people the opportunity to help a cause bigger than themselves.

“The thing is, it’s a very fulfilling life. Living life that’s just about fulfilling your own little desires and wants isn’t that great a life. When you’ve actually been given by a mission greater than your own little wants and desires, that’s a fulfilling life. And everyone can participate in it,” Engelhart said. 

Two years ago, during the LMU Lightening Complex fires, compost benefitted Engelhart’s home and business.

“Eleven houses burned down around us. Everything burned down around us and our 21 acres was a little oasis of greenery. We had very little damage, even though there was a fire on 360 degrees around us. And it’s because we maintained the soil moisture and [there] was no brown material or very little brown material to burn here,” Engelhart said.

A law went into effect this year in California that requires food waste to be composted. The legislation mandates all jurisdictions to provide an organic waste collection service to all residents and businesses.

“We’re all hearing these stories every day four, or five, or six stories about the drought and the severity of the drought. Here’s an opportunity to do something about it,” Reed said.

By composting our leftover fruits and vegetables, Engelhart and Reed say we can all make a difference in strengthening our soil, saving water, and protecting our planet.

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