ENCINITAS — Environmental advocates believe EDCO’s new anaerobic digestion facility is a good solution for food waste in North County, but more can be done as well.
EDCO will begin to collect food scraps from residents of Encinitas beginning June 1 in their green recycling bins to be used in its new anaerobic digester in Escondido. The recycling facility is meant to reduce the amount of methane gas produced from food waste in landfills.
This latest material recovery facility is one solution brought forth by California’s Senate Bill 1383, approved in 2016, that aims to cut organic waste from landfills entirely.
“Organic waste in a landfill creates very potent greenhouse gases,” says Jessica Toth, executive director of the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation. “Scientists say that methane is 86 times more potent and more harmful for our environment than carbon dioxide.”
The digester will have two products from the digestion process — methane gas that is captured and reused as a renewable fuel resource for EDCO’s fleet of trucks, and a remaining digestate used for fertilizer.
Toth and the Solana Center welcome the solution from EDCO but also continue to advocate for more work to be done on top of the digester.
“That is a great solution, it’s an industrial solution that’s going to handle a large portion of our food waste,” Toth said.
The EDCO facility will have a capacity of about 180,000 tons to cover the food waste of the cities they serve. However, as a region, San Diego County wastes over 500,000 tons of food every year, according to the San Diego Food System Alliance.
So while solutions such as anaerobic digester are welcome to environmentalists, it is not the magic solution to the problem.
“My belief is we need all kinds of solutions,” Toth said. “We need people doing residential composting in their own backyards for their own gardens, we need community composting, we need commercial composting.”
Toth also has some concerns about an increase in waste generation once there is a large-scale place to dispose of food waste, such as EDCO’s digester.
Similar to how someone might feel OK using a single-use plastic water bottle knowing they’ll do the right thing by placing it in a recycling bin, some may not choose to freeze their leftovers or start composting food waste — behavioral changes that are much more important to environmentalists.
And while Toth is happy with EDCO’s solution and their partnership with the community, the industrial solution is not without fault.
“The renewable natural gas is really great. But it is still a combustible fuel and it does not return harvested nutrients to our soils,” Toth said. “But we’re making good with the food waste and keeping it out of the landfill so I have no problem with all of that.”
To that end, the Solana Center and other state and local organizations have resources available on composting and other ways to reduce the amount of food waste households produce. From looking at shopping habits and limiting purchases so food doesn’t go to waste, to planning meals ahead of time while keeping waste in mind.
The Solana Center also suggests people start looking at their behavior when it comes to food waste by trying the “kitchen caddy challenge.” For even a single day, setting aside the amount of organic food waste you produce in your kitchen into a portable caddy or separate trash receptacle can be an eye-opening endeavor.
“If you’re throwing it in the trash can, it’s commingled and you don’t really know how much is getting thrown away,” Toth said. “That can just give you insight into how much waste you are generating.”