Healthy Foods, Healthy Soils: Facilitating Composting in Our Communities

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Healthy Foods, Healthy Soils Toolkit available here: http://www.sdfsa.org/toolkit/

San Diego County has approximately 3.3 million residents in 18 cities and more than 100 unincorporated communities. San Diego County has 5,732 farms and ranks as the 12th largest farm economy among 3,000 counties and has more small farms than any other county. The San Diego region prides itself as a leader in organic farming.  However, soils in San Diego County are not conducive to agriculture- they are typically poor, heavy in clay, and require amending with organic matter, such as compost, to improve physical structure.

Meanwhile, San Diego County disposes of more than one million tons of compostable materials in landfills every year, which equates to about 40% of all waste disposed. Of that million tons, roughly 500,000 tons is food material. These compostable materials, when treated as wastes and disposed in landfills, produce methane gas and leachate; two byproducts that pose risks to public health. The State of California has declared landfills a major emitter of greenhouse gases, and has declared methane a climate pollutant.

Better management of compostable materials (yard trimmings, food scraps, manure, etc.) will improve air and water quality, reduce soil erosion, revitalize agricultural and garden soils, ensure a robust and healthy food system, and create local jobs, while protecting human health and improving the quality of life for the region’s populace. Diverting compostables from the landfill will stimulate the economy by facilitating commerce, jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities. According to the Institute for Local Self Reliance, composting generates four jobs to every one job associated with landfilling.

Even though composting is the right thing to do, San Diego as a region lacks critical infrastructure. Siting compost facilities, large or small, can be a sensitive issue and raise concerns with both local governments and residents. Fears and bad practices in the past have led to restrictive land use allowances and high permit fees which today, consequently, disincentivizes development of composting infrastructure. 

The Healthy Food, Healthy Soils Toolkit aims to demystify perceptions about composting and provides practical insight to encourage fair policies and ordinances that supports composting of all sizes while providing necessary safeguards to protect public health and safety.

The Toolkit was designed for planners, regional stakeholders, and anyone with an interest in furthering sustainability, healthy food systems, and public health through better knowledge of zoning, land use, methods and policy focused on best practices and fair rules for composting.

San Diego County jurisdictions are encouraged to access the toolkit online at http://www.sdfsa.org/toolkit/ and meanwhile look within at its own existing ordinances and policies (if any). What are the next steps needed to set into motion potential amendments to the municipal code that will better facilitate composting and respond to statewide legislation? 

The Healthy Foods, Healthy Soils Toolkit is a project of Live Well San Diego: Healthy Works, implemented by Hidden Resources and San Diego Food System Alliance in partnership with UC San Diego Center for Community Health. This project supports Live Well San Diego, the County's vision of a region that is Building Better Health, Living Safely, and Thriving. For more information about Live Well San Diego, visit LiveWellSD.org.