How to change a food (waste) system

How to change a food (waste) system

I’ve been peddling good ideas at the legislature this year and wanted to share how I see a number of them threading together. Additionally, Supersistence will be participating in a soon to start Honolulu Community Compost and Food Waste Reduction Pilot Project funded by the USDA. So food waste has been on my mind. Thus, here is a strategy overview from my perspective, somewhat working downward in terms of impact.

Change the way we classify agricultural lands

To go beyond soil productivity alone we need to consider multi-functional outcomes. This would entail reclassifying ag lands based on multi-functional use and impact (eg, farm production, native forest barriers, hydrological function/riparian buffers. firebreaks, etc). These functions can then be weighed along with socio-economic goals of producers and the public. This means that when the state acquires and leases lands, the values of a proposed private use are weighed against manifold public benefits.

More on this idea here.

This high level change could be integrated as part of the Land Study Bureau Classifications and Ratings study bills:

  • Land Use Commission subcommittee HB1671 / SB2763
  • Office of Planning and Sustainable Development study SB2056 / HB1668

Establish programs and funds for soil health and carbon smart land management

The next layer of action involves creating government programs to support more sustainable land management decisions. There are two approach currently before the legislature:

  • Healthy Soils Program at HDOA SB2989
  • Hawaii Farmland and Forest Soil Health Carbon Smart Incentive Program at DLNR HB2493 / SB3325

Establish standards and deadlines for healthy soils practices on state lands and for state grants.

This is the stick part of the equation, whereby state leases and funding could be tethered to approved conservation/farm plans that must incorporate healthy soils activities. Otherwise we are just subsidizing private actors (via leases and funding) to strip mine public (soil) resources. 

  • The end of Healthy Soils Program SB2989 starts at this but it needs to be better fleshed out. 

Implement incentives to support adoption of healthy soils and carbon smart practices.

These are the carrots to support producer transitions and also the means to establish demand that builds related industries (compost/inputs, cover crop machinery, etc). Once the Greenhouse Gas Sequestration Taskforce report comes out later this year we’ll have a longer list of practices to establish incentives for. Key example in the running this session are:

  • Compost Reimbursement Program
  • Cover Crop Reimbursement Incentive Program HB1527

Require county organic waste management plans and diversion for large producers

The final aspect is implementing a statewide transition in how we manage organic waste by requiring counties to develop organic waste management as part of their solid waste management plans. Furthermore mandatory diversion thresholds for private industries producing over a certain volume of organic waste (say 2 tons/week like in Rhode Island) need to be implemented. This new material stream will help a compost industry to develop and expand, thereby producing the supply to meet increased demand of incentive programs. 

  • Organic Waste Diversion County Plan & Private Diversion Standard¬†HB1526¬†/¬†SB2674

Allow composting and co-composting operations on agricultural lands

Current state land use district regulations often frustrate attempts to establish composting operations. We need to allow for compost firms and projects to operate on ag lands (not just industrial). However we also need to protect our best ag lands (eg A lands).

  • HB1992 Permits composting and co-composting operations in agricultural districts

Ramp it all up

Over time, the private diversion threshold can go from 2 to 1 ton/week, and then expand to a universal recycling program that also includes mandatory residential diversion. Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law timeline of program development [pdf] is particularly worthy of review. By the time those go into effect compost industries will have had time to develop, producer demand for compost as an input will increase (the pilot compost program grew 75% YoY during its 2 years), and the acceptability of these practices will continue to grow- thus decreasing concern over the deadlines for mandatory use for state lands/funds.