If food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG) behind China and the U.S., according to the World Resources Institute. So far, twenty-four cities and three counties in the Portland Metro area, as well as Eugene and Salem, are addressing this issue. As one of Oregon’s top 10 largest cities, it’s time Corvallis joins them.
Facilitating this is a youth-led Corvallis group, Youth Climate Action Now (YouCAN), who are preparing to bring a “Corvallis Loves Food, Not Waste!” initiative to the City Council on February 16. This initiative includes a policy that would require businesses to compost and recycle back-of-house waste using existing infrastructure through Republic Services. While businesses already have the option to use composting and recycling, it is more expensive and under-utilized by most commercial clients. This initiative will call for the City of Corvallis to renegotiate its contract with Republic Services to make composting and recycling easier and more affordable.
YouCAN was originally formed by Linus, a Corvallis high school student who wanted to help his community find local solutions to reduce GHG emissions. Though members continue to graduate and move away, new students have joined, including Sarah (CVHS) and Eli Robinson (CHS). With this initiative as their second policy-based project, they have gathered information and talked with waste management specialists, food waste program directors, the Climate Advisory Board, city councilors, and Mayor Traber to propose a plan that would work uniquely for Corvallis.
Just months ago, Oregon was feeling the direct effects of climate change, as wildfires were filling our skies with smoke. At the same time, UN Secretary-General António Guterres gave a warning that the nations of the world must retool their economies for a green future or humanity is “doomed.”
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by climate change, but focusing on localized waste reduction and diversion strategies is a simple way to make a big impact. Composting reduces landfill emissions of more potent GHGs like methane and nitrous oxide, and produces organic material that captures carbon, recycles nutrients, and retains water in our soil. The Corvallis Loves Food, Not Waste! initiative urges city leaders to take advantage of our composting potential, and do our part to reduce emissions. On a larger scale, it also supports Oregon’s Climate Action Plan, which set a goal of cutting food waste in half by 2030.
However, composting is only one component of a multi-tiered approach that this initiative proposes. Another component is working with establishments to limit sources of food waste, channeling excess to food-insecure people, and establishing connections with local farms to direct food waste to livestock. With this approach, the initiative is also beneficial for businesses and the local economy.
The EPA estimates that 60-80% of restaurant waste is organic material, which means that helping establishments cut down on food waste will significantly reduce their food costs and trash/compost bill. Plus, restaurants can promote their efforts for positive publicity.By growing an industry around food waste reduction and diversion, a 2016 analysis of a Massachusetts food waste ban found subsequent job growth and increased economic opportunities in their state.
YouCAN realizes that the COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected our local economy, particularly small businesses. The policy will likely take effect in 2022, and phased implementation will give smaller businesses more time to prepare. In a way, the pandemic served as a wakeup call, as it revealed weak spots in our food supply chain that could have benefitted from a comprehensive food waste reduction and diversion program. Moving forward, the Corvallis Loves Food, Not Waste! initiative will build a sustainable system to be more resilient in the future.
To attend the city council meeting and show your support, join the call here on Tuesday, February 16 at 6:00 p.m.
by: YouCAN Corvallis members