California Hunger Doubles During COVID-19 As a New Climate Law Directs Surplus Food to Families

Lines of cars snaked around The Forum arena and all the way around the block in Los Angeles, California, Friday, April 10, to pick up groceries being handed out by a food bank. By Voice of America/KABC

Lines of cars snaked around The Forum arena and all the way around the block in Los Angeles, California, Friday, April 10, to pick up groceries being handed out by a food bank. By Voice of America/KABC

Hunger in California has doubled, and in some counties has tripled, since the state’s Stay-At-Home order went into effect, according to the California Association of Food Banks. A little-known climate law will soon direct supermarkets, food wholesalers, and other food businesses to send millions of meals to local food rescue organizations instead of dumping surplus food in landfills.

The law’s new requirements come at a crisis moment for the state. “We’ve seen up to three times as many people showing up at our food banks since the coronavirus pandemic first began and overall hunger in the state has gone up 113 percent,” said Communications Director of the Association of Food Banks Lauren Lathan Reid. 
 
Demand for Donated Food Has Recently Skyrocketed
 
In communities across the state, the overwhelming demand translates to miles-long lines of cars of cars filled with thousands of people waiting to enter food banks or make their way through pop up, drive-through food distribution lines.
 
Lathan Reid said the hardest-hit counties include Marin, Mono, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Sonoma, where food insecurity has tripled since the start of the pandemic. Hunger in Alameda, Los Angeles, and Santa Clara has increased more than 150 percent. 
 
Cities and counties can help meet this historic surge in demand by proactively implementing local programs to meet the new statewide requirements, which include:
• Requiring supermarkets, grocery stores, food service providers, food distributors, and food wholesaler vendors to donate their otherwise wasted food to neighbors in need starting January 1, 2022. 
• Requiring restaurants of a certain size, hotels, health facilities, large venues and events, state agencies with cafeterias, and K-12 schools to donate otherwise wasted food to neighbors in need starting January 1, 2024.
 
Food bank demand has skyrocketed in California. By Food Forward
Food bank demand has skyrocketed as twice as many Californians go hungry. By Food Forward 
 
Lowering Climate Pollutants by Feeding Californians in Need
 
As the public demand for government to take on climate change grew, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 1383 (Lara, Chapter 395, Statutes of 2016), a law designed to lower climate super pollutants. The legislation aimed to curtail landfill methane emissions by reducing the amount of food, yard waste, and other organic waste landfilled in California each year. A component of the landmark legislation will redirect good food that is currently being thrown away to Californians who do not have enough to eat. 
 
“Before COVID-19, one out of every eight Californians and one out of every five children didn’t have enough food to eat,” said Martine Boswell, a CalRecycle environmental scientist who advises communities and businesses on food waste prevention, edible food recovery, and overall food waste management. “That number has now gone up. At the same time that people are going hungry, hundreds of thousands of tons of edible food is annually thrown into the trash and ending up in landfills.”
 
Methane from landfilled food is one of the top climate super pollutants in the state.  By Food Forward
Methane from landfilled food is one of the top climate super pollutants in the state.  By Food Forward
 
Organics Make Up Two-Thirds of Trash Dumped in Landfills
 
In California, organic waste makes up about two-thirds of what we landfill each year. As these materials decompose without enough oxygen, they create methane, a heat-trapping gas more than 70 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and a major contributor to ground-level ozone and global climate change. 
 
To reduce landfill methane emissions, SB 1383 requires a 75 percent reduction in organic waste disposal by 2025, as well as actions to ensure 20 percent of currently disposed edible food is redirected to Californians in need. 
 
The term “edible food” means food intended for human consumption, but it must also meet the food safety requirements of the California Retail Code. 
 
“This is one-of-a-kind legislation,” said CalRecycle Environmental Program Manager Kyle Pogue. “No other state or country has required this level of food rescue.” 
 
California Needs Additional Space and Transportation to Rescue More Food
 
Meeting the edible food rescue requirement of SB 1383 will require California to increase capacity with the state's food recovery network of food banks, pantries, soup kitchens and other food rescue organizations. Funding helps these groups save more food by growing their capacity to collect, transport, store, and distribute more meals to those in need.
 
By Food Forward
By Food Forward 
 
60 Food Recovery Grants Will Bring Millions More Meals to Californians Statewide 
 
In the last couple of years, CalRecycle has awarded money to more than 60 food recovery projects all over the state through a series of grants. 
 
“Supporting food rescue programs in California helps provide jobs and nourish communities by giving them the food they need to survive and thrive,” said Boswell. 
 
CalRecycle’s Food Waste Prevention and Rescue Grant Program is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that puts billions of Cap-and-Trade dollars to work:
• Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
• Strengthening the economy
• Improving public health and the environment—particularly in disadvantaged communities. 
 
The program helps organizations establish or expand food rescue and food waste prevention projects to reduce the amount of food being disposed in landfills.
 
Click here to learn more about CalRecycle’s Food Waste Prevention and Rescue Grant Program recipients from across the state, including Food Forward, an innovative Southern California non-profit food rescue group that helps serve an additional 5 million meals a year thanks to their CalRecycle grant project.
 
 
— Linda Mumma
Posted on Jul 7, 2020

Summary: Hunger in California has doubled, and in some counties has tripled, since the state’s Stay-At-Home order went into effect, according to the California Association of Food Banks. A little-known climate law will soon direct supermarkets and food wholesalers to send millions of meals to local food rescue organizations instead of dumping surplus food in landfills.