live / 2014

Turning food scraps into a resource for local farms good jobs renewable energy and zero waste.

Turning food scraps into a resource for local farms good jobs renewable energy and zero waste.

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy-Fair Workweek

Develop plans to expand composting in LA creating economic opportunities, reducing pollution, supporting local farms and alternative energy.


Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

LAANE addresses the defining issues of our time, income inequality and the environment, with solutions that produce far-reaching change

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South Bay
  • Westside

What is your idea/project in more detail?

We will study expanding the collection and processing of organics as the next step in achieving a Zero Waste LA. A successful organics processing and reuse system will improve LA’s economic and environmental health by providing an alternative source of energy, generating fertilizer for local food production, creating good jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities, reducing water and air pollution and our dependence on landfills. The work will involve planning and business development for the initiative, identifying partners, and winning support from the City. The end product will be a plan and toolkit for developing a comprehensive organics program that will include participation from local communities, the private sector and the City.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

LA is poised to be a national environmental leader after adopting the country’s most far-reaching waste and recycling overhaul —the Zero Waste LA Franchise. LAANE and the Don’t Waste LA Coalition led the campaign to adopt this system, approved in April 2014. The new system calls for LA to divert 90% of waste from landfills and requires recycling for all customers. As part of meeting this ambitious diversion goal, waste haulers are required to submit an organic waste collection plan for all multifamily and commercial customers, as food scraps and yard trimmings make up a third of what is sent to landfills. However, the region currently lacks the capacity to process all of our organic waste, creating an opportunity for innovation and investment. Given the benefits of converting organic waste to compost, our project will lay the groundwork for LA to take advantage of this opportunity.

We will create a development plan to spur organics processing at various scales—through the City with the potential construction of public organics facilities, in partnership with responsible waste haulers committed to expanding this sector, and community-based entrepreneurs. With the City, this would entail developing a market analysis for the financing and construction of an anaerobic digester, a sustainable technology that processes food waste into compost and biogas. We will conduct research on types of anaerobic digestion including case studies from the U.S. and Europe, financing models, and public/private partnerships. Based on our research, we will support implementation of a range of infrastructure and entrepreneurial opportunities and will advocate for enabling policies at the City level.

We will identify funding and potential sites for composting operations, including working with CalRecycle on grants for smaller-scale operations. To facilitate private sector opportunities, we will study the regulatory framework and identify necessary policy interventions.

Partnering with the LA Food Policy Council, we will explore local entrepreneurial opportunities. This includes pilot projects like neighborhood-based composting for community gardens; programs to ensure the cleanest and safest compost streams; partnerships with large food waste generators such as LAUSD and restaurants, and the potential for worker cooperatives.

How will your idea/project help make LA the healthiest place to LIVE today? In 2050?

LA businesses and residents send about 1.2 million tons of food scraps and yard waste to landfills each year. Such compostable “organic” material forms over 1/3 of the City’s landfill waste.

When food decomposes in landfills, it emits methane, one of the most significant contributors to climate change. The biogas created from anaerobic digestion of food scraps will help LA move towards renewable energy and off carbon-intensive energy sources.

While local farming is strong, the three-year drought, soil erosion and poor soil quality have big impacts on agriculture and the environment which compost can help address.

Over 45% of LA families are unemployed or make below the threshold for self-sufficiency, and 26% of LA households are without health coverage. Composting creates twice the jobs t of landfilling and an estimated 2,500 jobs could be created in this field. By ensuring they are quality jobs with benefits, this new industry will help lift hardworking families to self-sufficiency.

We have an opportunity to transform our food scraps into a valuable resource for communities, the economy, and the environment. Developing the necessary infrastructure for processing organics and converting it to clean, renewable energy and fertilizer benefits LA. Given the quantity of organic waste generated by LA’s restaurants, markets, businesses and homes, this is potentially a huge scale enterprise with multiple benefits for LA. LA has over 8,000 restaurants, 70% of whose waste is food scraps which could be turned into valuable commodities.

LA will be a healthier place without organic waste in landfills, emitting harmful emissions and using scarce land resources. Food is healthier and safer when grown using soil enriched by compost and farms need less water, fertilizers, and pesticides. The biogas produced from anaerobic digestion of food waste will be a stable form of renewable energy from reliable technologies. Our plans will ensure that workers at the new facilities have quality jobs including family health benefits. The city’s economy will be healthier with this growing industry contributing to economic activity and creating entrepreneurial opportunities.

By 2050, if the plan is fully implemented, all organic waste will be treated at anaerobic digester facilities or other composting operations, and landfills will be a historic phenomenon. Thousands of LA families will have better jobs, and the air and water will be cleaner.

Whom will your project benefit?

This project has the potential to benefit everyone in the region by tackling a critical environmental and infrastructure problem. By reducing air and water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, this project will benefit the health of the region’s inhabitants. By creating opportunities for new jobs and new businesses, the project will benefit LA’s working families and local economy. By providing valuable healthy compost to urban farmers, the project will help them improve local food production, reducing their need for water and fertilizers that cause water pollution.

The project will create opportunities for small-scale entrepreneurs and responsible waste haulers who can be part of the comprehensive plan required for processing organics. Private investors who are willing to forgo quick returns will have opportunities for innovative public/private partnerships with the City to finance the construction of an anaerobic digester.

The project will benefit communities throughout Los Angeles, especially those disproportionately affected by unemployment, concentrated poverty and lack of healthy food access, based on data from the American Community Survey and CA Employment Development Department (EDD). Composting efforts including anaerobic digestion create more than double the number of jobs as disposal. That means creating thousands of jobs—careers that will sustain families. The range of employment opportunities will extend from entry-level positions to highly specialized science, engineering, and technical careers. A complementary City policy for the new facilities in the waste industry can incentivize job quality and priority for hiring local residents, providing training, and including individuals with barriers to employment.

The project will benefit everyone who lives or works in LA by providing cheaper energy that is less polluting and renewable. Biofuels generated through a city-owned facility can provide a renewable source of energy to power homes and businesses and fuel the city’s fleet. The entire region will benefit from cleaner air due to the reduction in methane emissions from diverting food waste away from landfills.

Based on our work over the last several years on the Don’t Waste LA campaign, communities affected by the concentration of waste and recycling facilities such as the Northeast San Fernando Valley and East LA, will be areas where our outreach will be very targeted and deliberate.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

To build support for expanding composting, developing anaerobic digestion, and to contribute to our research and planning, we are building a broad and diverse working group of organizations and individuals concerned with food waste disposal, healthy locally grown food, and creating new industries for local workers.

Our lead confirmed partner is the LA Food Policy Council (LAFPC), which has a network of over 600 food organizations. Their 100 urban agriculture organizations include experts, practitioners, and composting entrepreneurs. It brings its policy and expertise to the DWLA Coalition and took the lead in drafting language that was adopted promoting an ambitious organics program for the City’s requirements of waste haulers in the Zero Waste LA System. LAFPC advocates for healthy food access policies and coordinates projects such as market makeovers, legalizing street vending, and parkway gardens.

We have had conversations with the Mayor’s Office and the Bureau of Sanitation on anaerobic digestion and will be collaborating with other City officials and departments as the project moves forward. We are working with Councilmember Koretz’ office to identify policies that could support the expansion of composting. We hope to involve In the Public Interest for advice and assistance regarding financing that assures accountability and good jobs as the city explores forms of public-private partnerships to finance and build an anaerobic digester.

We are working with architect Professor Curt Gambetta, who focuses on waste and recycling infrastructure issues and has collaborated with students to design a neighborhood-scale compost network. We worked with him co-writing a broadsheet on waste and recycling facilities’ impacts and design, and plan to continue collaborating in future.

We are working with Antioch Professor Gilda Haas to explore opportunities for co-operative enterprises in the waste and recycling industry, focusing on possibilities in the organics waste stream. Through this collaboration, we will be able to identify and develop the necessary training for compost-related jobs.

The Sierra Club, Angeles Chapter, was a founding member of the Don’t Waste LA Coalition and is a long-time advocate for increasing composting through its Organics Project. In addition to expertise, the chapter has over 40,000 members who can help inform and support new infrastructure and spread the word.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Live” metrics?

  • Access to healthy food
  • Healthcare access
  • Exposure to air toxins
  • Number of households below the self-sufficiency standard
  • Percent of imported water
  • Obesity rates
  • Acres and miles of polluted waterways
  • Percentage of LA communities that are resilient (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Food waste is nearly 33% of what is sent to landfills and decomposing food waste creates over 15% of US methane emissions. By eliminating food waste from landfills, composting and anaerobic digestion reduce climate change impacts. By keeping food waste local, the project will also reduce air pollution from transporting food waste and yard trimmings to composting operations and landfills in Kern County and San Bernardino, where our organic waste is processed.

Adding compost to soil helps it retain water so less is required and also helps prevent water runoff. It contributes to cleaner rivers and streams by preventing water runoff and replacing chemical fertilizers which drain into those precious resources. Increase in organic farming using compost also reduces the need for pesticides.
Anaerobic technology can run with recycled water. The process results in treated water which can be used for irrigation or cycled back into the digestion system.

By increasing composting through anaerobic digestion and other methods, the project will support urban agriculture and locally grown healthy food. Compost restores degraded soil and ensures higher nutrient food. Local food production promotes healthy eating. LAFPC works with community gardens and in areas where there are small farms that can use the natural fertilizer. Savings on water, fertilizer and pesticides helps sustain agriculture.

By generating renewable energy, anaerobic digestion will help move LA off coal and natural gas. Anaerobic digestion of organic waste produces clean biogas as the organic waste is broken down inside the vessels. Ralph’s markets’ distribution center, dairy and administrative offices get a quarter of their power from gases produced on-site by anaerobic digestion. These gases can also be converted into fuels to power vehicles such as waste hauling vehicles.

Because the jobs created by the new infrastructure will offer high quality, well-paying careers, the project will reduce the number of households below the self-sufficiency threshold and will increase access to healthcare by including full family comprehensive benefits for workers. Smaller scale composting ventures will provide entrepreneurship opportunities and potentially support co-operative models, increasing household self-sufficiency. Keeping these resources nearby and supporting local farms helps increase our communities’ resiliency.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

Air toxins: Landfill methane emissions will be reduced by 16% and overall methane by 23%. By increasing local composting capacity, we will significantly reduce truck trips. Air quality improvements will come from the generation of biogas, which can be used instead of more polluting forms of energy.

of households below the self-sufficiency index: If we capture and process all organic waste, we will create some 2,500 jobs in the industry which will benefit households whose incomes are below self-sufficiency. More jobs are possible in related fields such as material collection, entrepreneurial opportunities and urban agriculture.

% of LA communities that are resilient: By increasing the number of good quality jobs and promoting local food, a healthy environment, and clean air and water, the percentage of communities that are economically and environmentally resilient will increase.

Access to healthy food: By increasing local access to compost, we will support LA’s local food production, as well as increasing the food’s nutritive value and the soil health of farms. LAFPC LA Food Policy Council connects local food production to communities who need access to healthy food.

Healthcare access: Quality jobs in the new industry will include full family healthcare for 2,500 households.

% of imported water: 80% of California’s water goes to food production and only 0.03% of the water used in the LA the ten county LA “foodshed” is from rainfall. Each inch of compost can help each acre of land retain 16,500 gallons of water. Compost enables soil to retain up to 2.5 times the amount of water it could normally hold, potentially halving the amount of water needed.

Reduction in polluted waterways: The LA “foodshed” uses 27,945 tons of pesticides each year. The fertilizers used in agriculture (along with animal waste) are the largest source of groundwater contamination in the state. As agricultural operations increase compost use, there will be significant decreases in nitrate levels, pesticide use, and other causes of groundwater pollution.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

We have learned from Zero Waste LA that carefully designing a new program requires building a broad coalition of community, food justice, environmental and workers’ rights organizations, developing strong partnerships with key decision-makers, and crafting a smart public policy can achieve our goals related to climate resiliency and reducing income inequality. We will utilize the lessons learned on strategy and organizing through the DWLA campaign and apply them to the food waste campaign.

The Zero Waste LA Franchise Ordinance brings recycling to all Angelenos dramatically improving a system that has excluded hundreds of thousands of residents in 63,000 multifamily as well as commercial buildings. By establishing 11 zones to be bid on by waste haulers and set up as exclusive franchises, the ordinance decreases vehicle pollution—not only reducing the number of miles traveled by haulers, but also the number of trucks traveling through each neighborhood. In addition to reducing the environmental impacts of inefficient truck routes, contractors will be required to use only clean fuel trucks and meet high job standards for their workers, while diverting more than two million tons of trash away from landfills and into the recycling system for eventual remanufacturing of goods which, in turn, will create additional jobs and new local industry to boost the LA economy.

As we conducted research for the first and second phases of our Don’t Waste LA project, it became clear that LA could not achieve Zero Waste without dealing with the challenge of disposing of food waste. Nearly a third of the waste in landfills is food waste so, without eliminating that, we cannot achieve our goals. From LAFPC and other partners in DWLA, we learned how important composting organic waste is to achieving our goals for clean air and reducing dependence on landfills, so we began to look at optimal ways for treating food waste. LAFPC brings tremendous experience in advocating for food and agriculture related policy change and in bringing together passionate allies alongside entrepreneurs to tackle these issues.

Using the lessons we learned in achieving the Zero Waste Ordinance, we believe we can achieve a positive outcome for this project promoting recycling and reusing organic waste through anaerobic digestion and composting.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

In the first year, we will complete the study, research, and policy development that will be the foundation and structure of the project. The two researchers assigned to this project, the team director, the team organizer, and our partners in the project will be able to do the work described in this proposal in the first 12 months. We plan to implement a compost pilot project during that period as well.

The Don’t Waste LA coalition is embarking on a campaign for the City of LA to establish a Recycling Careers Taskforce–a convening of environmental, workforce development, labor, and industry experts and advocates—to study how the city can leverage its resources and purchasing power to create the demand for recycled and remanufactured goods. We will have a seat at the table in the development of this taskforce to carry out our vision of the Zero Waste LA Plan. Our goal is to have a motion creating the task force introduced before the end of 2014. The creation of this taskforce is crucial to our organics program development plan.

In November 2014, LAANE and the Don’t Waste LA coalition are sponsoring an event with LAFPC on composting as a food justice issue. The LAFPC holds networking meetings every two months for their members. We will be presenting on community-based food production and how the Zero Waste LA plan’s incorporation of organics processing can encourage entrepreneurial efforts around composting. At this event, we also hope to announce the development of a pilot program for neighborhood-scale organics processing with LAFPC. Over the course of several months after the announcement, we will plan the pilot project and identify a responsible waste hauler entrepreneur interested in organics processing, as well as urban farmers who could carry out the project with us.

In terms of moving forward a plan and market-development study on the construction of a city-owned anaerobic digester, we plan on touring several facilities, alongside City of Los Angeles officials, in Northern California that have constructed different types of digesters and have adopted various operations models (publicly-owned and privately operated, entirely publicly-owned, or privately owned and operated).

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

Developing a comprehensive plan for expanding organics collection to all Angelenos requires that we identify opportunities for participation from community residents, the private sector and the City. Each of these stakeholders is integral to the process because of the need to handle hundreds of thousands of tons of organic waste in a way that yields all the potential benefits to the City and its residents.

Constructing and operating a publicly-owned anaerobic digester will require extensive resources because of the significant capital investment necessary. Our first challenge will be to identify public and private funding sources to invest in the project. In The Public Interest will assist us in this area. In addition, finding suitable locations close to the denser areas of LA will be difficult and costly. Identifying locations will be part of the first year’s work, starting with looking at land currently by the City. We must also look into what type of digester would be most suitable and identify funding sources for a pilot project that can kick off late in the first year.

Perhaps the biggest challenge and opportunity is how to engage residents, businesses and City agencies in the work of separating the organic material from the rest of the trash in a city as dense as LA. For residents of apartment buildings, separating out food scraps requires education and incentives for participation in such program. In a high density city like LA, where over 60% of residents are renters, it is important to take into consideration space limitations and support from landlords. We will study best practices from cities like San Francisco and New York, as well as cities in Europe. There are also potential regulatory hurdles, which we hope to minimize by building relationships with government officials during the planning process.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Education/training
  • Community outreach