As my family has learned, operating a successful business requires many things. It requires making great products, focusing on first-rate service, hiring good employees and treating them well, complying with regulations, and keeping overhead costs to a minimum.
In addition, we believe a responsible business should operate in a way that does right by society and the environment.
To meet each of those objectives, every detail matters — even details that are invisible to customers.
My family owns a deli and bakery in the Coachella Valley, and we are proud to say it has become one of the leading family businesses in the area. We bake pastries and quiches, make sandwiches, and prepare salads. If your kitchen is like ours, you know what’s left over after the food is made – a bit of a mess.
Egg shells, orange peels, apple cores, excess dough, avocado pits, vegetable stems, fat and skin cut from meats, bones, coffee grounds. These are things our customers never see and, we hope, never even think about.
For years, we have been able to recycle these organic materials in a way that is inexpensive for us, good for the environment, and beneficial for farmers. We have an agreement with a small hauler to take it all away and give it to local farmers to be converted into animal feed.
It’s a detail that keeps our costs down and benefits the environment by diverting organic materials from the landfill, where they would decompose and generate methane, a potent global-warming gas.
Now there is talk in Sacramento of taking this sensible option away from our restaurant, as well as the 1.8 million other restaurants and food retailers around California.
The idea behind Assembly Bill 2959 is to impose a one-size-fits-all approach to disposing of organic waste generated by households and all types of businesses. It would allow that material to be removed only by a designated franchise holder – in other words, a large trash-removal firm – where it would be taken to a composting facility.
If this proposal were to become law, it would increase the cost of doing business for restaurants already struggling with the effects of the COVID-19 crisis and it would result in a less desirable way of disposing of organic materials.
At our business, we already follow the hierarchy for dealing with organic materials recommended by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. First, we keep food waste to a minimum. Second, we donate unsold edible products to programs that feed hungry people. Third, we have the organic material that remains recycled into animal feed.
Composting is further down the environmental priority list.
Chances are, you’ve never given this issue much thought. You may be surprised to learn that recycling organic material into animal feed is something that is practiced widely around the world, and that for many California dairies and livestock ranchers this food byproduct makes up half or more of the food available for their cattle.
The availability of this resource has an additional environmental benefit because it reduces the need for farmers to import grains from out of state.
To eliminate this food-recycling option would also create a burden for local governments and constituents who pay monthly waste-removal bills. Because state law mandates that organic materials no longer be buried in landfills, local governments are already collectively facing a $22 billion cost to build infrastructure to compost or otherwise process organic waste. The lower the volume of such waste, the lower the cost to process it.
Our lawmakers should reject this idea and allow a system that works well for everyone to keep on working as it is.
After that, I hope you never again have to think of the organic byproducts generated by our deli or whatever your favorite restaurant happens to be. It’s a business detail we responsibly take care of so that you can just enjoy our food.