Why composting can be the cure for most waste problems

If everyone took the simplest of steps, our collective action can have dramatic effects. The act of separating our waste at the time of disposal is a simple step to mitigating 3.3 billion tons of carbon emissions in a year. But more importantly, two-thirds of American garbage is actually food waste, and forty percent of food produced is never consumed. But waste in general is a huge environmental liability. On average, each U.S. citizen produces 4.4 pounds of garbage every day of which 65 percent goes into landfills; it is the equivalent of 728,000 tons of daily garbage — enough to fill up 63,000 garbage trucks.

Everyday 12,000 tons of garbage from Los Angeles flow into the Puente Hills landfill.

That is why a collective effort should be taken by first starting with food waste. The best strategy is to separate our food waste from other types of waste like paper, packaging, and cans so that food waste can be converted to compost.

While composting may not be a ubiquitous concept for most communities and states in America, it is the norm for all households in Canada, France, South Korea, and Japan. For instance, the source-separated collection system of household food waste has been implemented nationally in South Korea and Japan. Despite the enormous benefits of strict waste separation, it is still not widely practiced in America, and needs more support in Los Angeles given its metropolitan size and sustainability goals outlined in the pLAn.

The natural decomposition process of composting allows us to make rich soil, divert 32 million tons of food waste annually from landfills, which mitigates methane emissions that result from anaerobic decomposition, and help combat climate change. Another benefit is we can reduce our dependency on artificial fertilizers, which pollute our waterways through runoff, and promote gardening and other well-being practices.

San Francisco stands as the first city to pass a composting and recycling ordinance in the United States that requires composting and recycling among all households. So what is keeping us from making this a policy implementation across all cities and states, and what is holding us back from moving forward?

The reasons can vary by region, but there are three main reasons that can explain the lag across the board:

1. Waste management is a privatized industry. The back and forth nature of government and private sector is inefficient and oftentimes does not bring about the wanted resolution. The city has said under the current open market system, it is unable to regulate the business of waste, push diversion targets, and establish labor standards.

2. Public complacency and apathy. We do not feel the impending effects of climate change and environmental hazards that come from incinerators, landfills, and carbon emissions from waste hauling trucks. We never ‘see’ or care to wonder what happens with our waste once we get rid of it. All we care for is to “take it out.”

3. Too many competing issues. Environmental sustainability goals land at the end of municipal to-do lists. For instance, Los Angeles faces crises in a number of areas such as homelessness reduction, affordable housing, streets, transit overhaul expenditures, and social capital retention.

Since waste management is a privatized industry, government ordinances rely heavily on the work of private companies and what they do. San Francisco’s Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance (№100–09) succeeded because it incentivized Recology, a major leader for Zero Waste, to use the three-bin separation system with composting in its own separate containment. Without the hands of private and public sector partnerships in place, sustainable technologies in waste cannot be implemented.

Hence, a policy that calls for a Public Private Partnership enforced by an ordinance like the one in San Francisco is needed to promote composting in Los Angeles. I propose a policy that leverages technology, namely Arduino sensors, to track the efforts of the Don’t Waste LA campaign, a multi-stakeholder initiative that seeks to ramp up the city’s composting and recycling efforts, and has in part resulted in a new city-wide. Last September, the Los Angeles Board of Public Works approved a $3.5 billion waste hauling contract, which will include 11 franchise zones divided amongst seven waste haulers. By tracking the footprint and results, can we provide convincing data on the pressing argument for an ordinance that mandates more composting in L.A.

Arduino sensors gather social data, which can ultimately provide the community engagement required for real change. By sharing the data, social and behavioral changes will increase. The transparency that comes with the use of the technology gives participants the ability to monitor the composting process throughout the cycle.

Compost Cycle

Los Angeles’ current 76.4% diversion rate can be on a monitored path via Internet of Things technologies, Arduino sensors, to meet the city’s zero waste goals including its 90% and 95% diversion goals by 2025 and 2030 respectively.

The ultimate intent is to return food waste back into the soil. Smart technologies via web-connected sensor monitoring will stimulate the data-driven social change in the sphere of food waste for the greater goal of increasing sustainability, energy recovery, and community health.