Unsurprisingly, every top search result for “Senate Bill 1383 food waste” yields links to propitious, upbeat summaries of what’s coming to every household kitchen in California.
For example, from CalRecycle, under the heading “Recycling Organic Materials into New Products,” there is a photo of two women in the kitchen, one of them preparing to dump a plate full of food scraps into a special new container. Both of them appear to be deliriously happy. From RethinkWaste, under “residents,” there is a photo of a smiling woman pouring “organics” out of her special kitchen collection bucket into the large “compost only” can that she will roll out to the curb.
Happiness, apparently, is intimately connected with reducing “short lived climate pollutants,” and so to further our collective happiness, the state is going to turn our kitchen scraps into “biogas” (good), before it can degrade and release methane (bad). How much biogas? How much methane? Compared to what? And at what cost?
Don’t ask. Be happy.
But as usual, our state lawmakers have abandoned common sense. As it is today, most people already either throw their banana peels and apple cores into a “green waste” bin, or pulverize them with the garbage disposal in their sink. But bones and meat scraps typically go into a trash can that’s lined with a plastic bag, which is tied off when it’s filled and dumped in a garbage bin. That’s sanitary. It’s also efficient.
Do people really want to pour every festering bit of scum scraped off their frying pans and every half gnawed chicken bone into a state-issued “organics” bucket that takes up space on their counter, then periodically empty that bucket into their compost bin which has previously only contained grass clippings and hedge cuttings? Who is going to clean up the smelly, putrescent dead animal fluids that will inevitably migrate to the bottom of these buckets and bins and accumulate, week after week? That’s unsanitary. It’s also an intrusive nuisance.
When you consider the new requirements as specified by SB 1383, what households already do ought to be good enough. Because these “organics,” i.e., garden waste enhanced with banana peels, half eaten ribs, bacon grease, chicken bones, etc., are now going to either be delivered to an “anaerobic digestion facility” that generates biogas, or they’ll continue to be delivered to existing composting facilities. Since California’s composting facilities are already well established, most of this modified waste stream will continue to be composted, and they will release greenhouse gas as they break down. As for the anaerobic digesters, they will need to be built at taxpayer expense and cannot possibly be built at sufficient scale to handle all of California’s residential yard waste and food scraps without spending hundreds of millions if not billions. They will then produce fabulously expensive biogas, which will then be burned to generate fabulously expensive energy, still releasing CO2 in the process.
At some point, millions of Californians have to wake up and demand sanity from their legislators and bureaucrats. If greenhouse gasses are truly an existential threat, and if the world is really going to be so impressed by California’s example that they emulate everything we do, can’t we at least still indulge in honest carbon accounting? How much energy will be expended constructing anaerobic digesters big enough to accommodate the garden clippings and kitchen waste of 40 million Californians? Can’t much of this methane from kitchen scraps just get harvested from existing landfills? And if not, what percentage of California’s total methane emissions come from household food scraps?
There might be legitimate answers to these questions. But then again, remember these are the same politicians who have regulated California’s timber industry nearly out of existence. If you’re serious about sequestering CO2, there is nothing more effective than lumber. California’s timber industry used to harvest 6 billion board feet of lumber per year as recently as the 1990s. Now California’s annual timber harvest is less than one-quarter that much. Instead of the CO2 embodied in harvested trees being sequestered as lumber, these unharvested, overcrowded and unhealthy trees burn like hell every summer. But let the forests burn, fouling the air year after year with more greenhouse gas than kitchen scraps from California’s households would emit in a hundred thousand years. Then blame it on climate change, instead of forest mismanagement, and use that to justify doing anything you want.
These are the politicians who are now coming into your kitchen.
Who Supported the Politicians That Sponsored SB 1383?
It is always useful to follow the money when evaluating legislation. After all, complying with SB 1383 will require more government spending. More government employees will need to be hired. More employees at every public waste management agency will need to be hired. So did government unions and unions representing government contractors – whose membership will grow thanks to SB 1383 – contribute to the campaigns of SB 1383’s sponsors in the state senate? Yes they did.
SB 1383 was passed in 2016 and is taking effect this year. The two main sponsors of the bill were Senators Benjamin Allen and Loni Hancock.
Allen is running for reelection this November. He has four donors so far who each gave the maximum $9,700 contribution. They are the California Teachers Association, the SEIU Small Contributor Committee, the SEIU Local 721, and the California Association of Realtors. Three out of four are unions. Back in 2014, when Allen was running for Senate, he had five donors that contributed what at that time was the maximum, $8,200. Along with the realtors, they were AFSCME, the California Association of Electrical Workers, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the California State Council of Laborers, and the United Nurses Association. Four out of five were unions. And back in 2018, Allen’s campaign had six donors who contributed $8,800, the maximum in that year. They were four SEIU affiliates, along with the California Federation of Teachers and the State Building and Construction Trades Council. Six for six.
What about Loni Hancock? Hancock ran for reelection in 2012, before retiring in 2016 after co-sponsoring SB 1383 during her final session in the Senate. The maximum allowable contribution in 2012 was $7,800, and for that amount, Hancock had five donors. They were the IBEW Local No. 302, the Electrical Workers Local 595, AFSCME, the California Teachers Association, and the California Federation of Teachers. Five for five.
These maximum donations are indicative. On the links above that point to the contributions received by these politicians, download the spreadsheets and sort by amount. From the top down, the dominant source of contributions are either public sector unions or public sector contractors. Why the teachers union? How do they benefit? Because these public sector unions support each other. That’s why the firefighters union marched with the United Teachers of Los Angeles in January 2019, instead of using their political clout to lobby to revive the timber industry – which is the only practical way to dramatically reduce wildfires.
Loni Hancock was beholden to public sector unions for her political career. Benjamin Allen is beholden to public sector unions for his political career, as are scores of politicians that currently wield a supermajority in both houses of the California state legislature. What these unions want, these unions get. Their agenda, naturally enough, is more pay, more benefits, more hires, and more contracts. That agenda may or may not be in the interest of all Californians. Sometimes, it will reach right into your kitchen.
This isn’t just about food scraps. Climate change is a convenient excuse for politicians and their benefactors to profitably interfere with just about every activity we engage in that produces a scrap of greenhouse gas. Anywhere. Everywhere. No matter what the cost, or the inconvenience, our legislators are going to demand “mitigation.” They’ll claim it’s to save the planet. Only a cynical “denier” might think it’s actually just to create more jobs for public sector employees and contractors.
The tragedy is that intrusive, expensive schemes like this, of marginal if not counterproductive utility, are how taxpayer money is wasted in California, when there are practical and urgently needed public works – water supply projects come immediately to mind – that remain unfunded. Everyone, certainly including those union members and leaders who still care about this state, should think carefully about what they’re going to do next.
Meanwhile, and from now on, Californians are now compelled to periodically clean rotting, rancid, liquified detritus of food scraps from their compost buckets and bins. Be happy.
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