California grocers must donate, not toss, unsold edible food, under new law

Kaycee Enerva

Kaycee Enerva


In California, a new law mandates grocers to donate – not toss out – unsold edible food. 

Beginning this month, residents and businesses in the state, including grocery stores and large food distributors, are required to donate unsold edible food or food scraps that otherwise be thrown away to food banks or other food distribution organisations – or get fined.

The program also requires residents to dispose of organic food waste such as vegetables, produce, eggshells, and coffee grounds in green bins to be collected by the municipality’s waste services. 

Depending on the municipality’s infrastructure, the waste will either be converted into compost or generate energy in the form of biogas.

“This is the biggest change to trash since recycling started in the 1980s,” Rachel Wagner, director, California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, told the Associated Press.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, roughly one-third of all food produced in the US is never consumed. According to the World Wildlife Federation, food waste accounts for approximately 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, nearly four times greater than emissions produced by the global airline industry.

California is the second state to pass food recycling laws, following Vermont’s, which passed its mandatory composting law in 2020. 

Allison Glader of the non-profit food organisation Feeding San Diego says the law is a win-win for the planet and those who face hunger in the state.

“We will just hopefully continue to see an increase of food donations, which in turn can feed more people. There’s enough food out there for everyone,” said Glader

However, the announcement sparked reactions on Twitter, claiming that the new law was vague on which foods are considered “edible scraps”.

California grocers must donate, not toss, unsold edible food, under new law

@CobleTyler says: On paper this sounds great, but by the time stuff gets packaged and ready to ship it’ll be inedible. Especially if it’s a perishable produce. So where’s the cutoff on what is and isn’t edible.

California grocers must donate, not toss, unsold edible food, under new law

@BelthasarZero says: Do they mean unspoiled food which is past the expiration date? If so, who’s going to assume the liability of determining whether the food in question is unspoiled? No green fuzz = good to give away?

Other businesses, including restaurants, schools, and hotels have until 2024 to comply with the new regulations. At the present, California landfills contain 23 million tons of organic material – the state is hoping to cut that by 75 per cent by 2025.

The Optimist recently shared details and answers most of the public’s questions about California’s new composting law

Kaycee Enerva

Kaycee Enerva

A digital content manager based in the Philippines, Kaycee Enerva has written for multiple publications over several years. A graduate of Computer Science, she exchanged a career in IT to pursue her passion for writing. She's slowly practicing sustainability through period cups, and eating more plant-based food.