This semester, I’ve taken a baby step into the life of being a woman in STEM, which, coming from an English major, just means finally buckling down to take the biological sciences breadth requirement. Please commence the applause.
The biological science class in question is about climate change in California, which felt like a cop-out of actually doing any math or science because I firmly believe climate change isn’t solely a topic to be focused on by scientists, but instead is intrinsically interdisciplinary. But we just began studying the carbon cycle and soon I’m going to revolt against molecular equations.
In a lecture the other day, my professor posed a question: How many people know that throwing away organic waste is soon to become illegal in California? No one, myself included, raised their hand. My interest was immediately piqued. What was this law and why didn’t anyone — at least assumedly all the people who have thrown something away in the state — know anything about its existence?
California Composting Law 2022: The basics
First of all, don’t panic, you’re not breaking the law if you haven’t started composting yet. You have time to make the transition. Right now, all jurisdictions, cities, counties and districts, have been required to provide organic waste collection services for residents. But, beginning in 2024, there will be fines for those, both individuals and businesses, that don’t compost their organic waste.
Organic waste counts as any green material, such as food, yard waste, paper products, manure and countless other products that we’ve been conditioned to toss off to the landfill without a second thought. The state has a goal to compost 75% of all organics by 2025, which would be equivalent to taking millions of cars off of the road.
Simply put, the largest emitters of methane in landfills are these organic waste items. The process of breaking down compostables without oxygen, as airflow is prevented by plastic matter, releases the potent greenhouse gas. Reducing methane in the atmosphere is a key step in fighting climate change, as it’s a more powerful greenhouse gas in accelerating warming than carbon dioxide. It takes less methane to cause more amplified detrimental effects on the environment, so reducing emissions through preventing organic matter from ending up in landfills has a significant impact on climate processes.
How to transition to composting
If you haven’t been composting already, avoiding fines should incentivize you. On campus and in the dorms, it’s quite simple as using the organic waste bins that are in every place where a trash bin is located. At home, get some compostable liners when you’re at the store and add a small compost bin next to your trash can. Take the extra couple seconds to check the label of your packaging and see if it’s compostable, or open the second bin and toss in your leftover apple core or sandwich crust.
The California Composting Law is a prime example of incentivizing climate action through economic and financial motivators. Working within our current capitalistic systems, monetizing beneficial environmental changes is the most effective way to initiate widespread shifts in the way our activities affect the earth. It’s key that this type of legislation is turned onto the government and corporate institutions as well, as that’s where our biggest cuts in emissions will come from.
As my biological science breadth class exemplified, we all still fall short in our knowledge of widespread climate mitigation processes. So start composting or keep on separating your organic wastes. But also pay attention to how we can hold the biggest polluters accountable. Climate change isn’t the problem of the individual to solve — it’s not a single-sided imposition on you, me or any single person. But, we can hold those making massively detrimental impacts on the environment accountable, and we need to start forcing responsibility onto those entities now.