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Opinion: Food Waste Can Worsen the Drought — Here’s How You Can Help

OpinionOpinion: Food Waste Can Worsen the Drought — Here’s How You Can Help

Food waste recyclingFood waste recycling in California. Courtesy Waste Management

We depend on fresh water to survive, and there’s not that much to go around. 

California is in the midst of a historic drought, and in San Diego, we’re constantly told that we need to save water. We’ve heard a lot of these tips before: shorten your showers, “if it’s yellow, let it mellow,” don’t water your lawns, replace your garden with native plants. But with a drought of this scale, they might not be enough. 

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What can most of us actually do to meaningfully save water, even if we’re already doing everything we think we can? What if you don’t have the means to drought-proof your landscaping or have no yard to begin with? What if you own a business with built-in water needs? 

Solana Center for Environmental Innovation works every day to help residents and companies in the San Diego region live and do business more sustainably. One of the most impactful things we know anyone can do to conserve water is to reduce the amount of food you waste, and keep organic waste like old food and yard trimmings out of our landfills. Here’s how you can do that, along with some other proven ways to save water that will help our region long-term. 

Reducing and Recycling Food Waste 

Shop smart, plan meals, and take steps at home to prevent food waste. When food is wasted, so are all of the resources that went into producing it — land, labor, fuel, energy, and water. Every year in the United States, wasted food consumes 5.9 trillion gallons of fresh water, or 14 percent of all the water we use. 

Check your fridge and pantry before you go shopping. Give “imperfect ” produce a chance. Use leftover scraps to make burritos, stir fry, omelets, wraps, soups and smoothies. Implement a “use first” bin in your fridge to prioritize food items you need to use right away. And remember, “sell by ” and “use by” dates are the manufacturer’s idea of “freshness,” not food safety. 

Many homeowners will also receive green bins under Senate Bill 1383, California’s new organic waste recycling law. But if you live in an apartment without room for a backyard compost bin or don’t have a green curbside bin yet, it’s easier to recycle your organic waste than you think.

Participate in our Kitchen Caddy Challenge to get a pulse on how much organic waste your household produces. From there, you can use the Bokashi Method for an odor-free way to store your food scraps before composting or add a worm compost bin to your household. Or, you can bring your organic waste to us at Solana Center for Environmental Innovation in Encinitas, where we’ll make it into nutrient-rich, water-saving compost as part of our Food Cycle community compost program.

Want to make your own compost at home? Join an upcoming workshop where we’ll teach you how to do so in a water-efficient way. 

Other Ways to Save Water Every Day

No matter who you are or where you live, there are a number of less talked-about ways to meaningfully save water. 

If you have a garden or landscaping, add mulch and compost to your plants, garden or lawn to lock in moisture and prevent evaporation—this can reduce your watering needs by up to 40%. You can also put a bucket or bowl in your sink to capture water when you’re washing or rinsing dishes with biodegradable dish soap. Then, simply take that water outside and water your plants.

If you’re a homeowner or brick-and-mortar business owner, set up a greywater system that diverts your used water from your sinks, showers or even laundry to your garden and landscaping. Install a high-efficiency toilet. Collect rainwater and moisture from morning dew in an easy-to-install rain barrel or cistern and use that to water your plants—and save money with rebates from SoCal Water$mart. San Diego County also offers incentives and rebates for qualified homeowners to replace their lawns or install rain gutters that drain into a rain barrel. 

Solana Center can help you in your journey to sustainable living — we have workshops and webinars on topics including composting and water conservation, a tool library for borrowing gardening implements, and even sustainable dinnerware to borrow for special events rather than using disposables. 

It’s easy to have an impact with small changes in thinking and behavior. Our region and planet depend on us taking every step we can to conserve water, and that includes making simple adjustments in how we eat and live. 

Jessica Toth is the executive director of Solana Center for Environmental Innovation, a San Diego area environmental nonprofit that focuses on waste, water, and soil. Jessica currently calls Del Mar home. 

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