Nikki Rodoni Recaps the Monterey County Sustainability Working Group's Ground-Breaking Reimagining Organic Waste Event
MONTEREY, CA - This April, the Monterey County Sustainability Working Group (MCSWG) held a groundbreaking Reimagining Organic Waste event with the express purpose of addressing—and improving—management of organic waste (culls)—byproduct generated from chopping, slicing, and dicing fresh vegetables. In the face of increasing disposal costs and regulations, voices from throughout the $4.4 billion dollar Monterey County ag industry shared their views and addressed ways in which the industry could curb waste, reduce costs, and create a better, more sustainable system of organic waste management.
“In the beginning this material was a revenue generator, it had value as animal feed. That was great when we had feed lots within close proximity to the packing sheds. Over the years, as value-added—ready to eat salads, and chopped vegetables—became more mainstream, the industry has been generating more of this byproduct,” Nikki Rodoni, Founder and CEO of Measure to Improve and Reimagining Organic Waste's organizer, told attendees during the event’s opening presentation. “Unfortunately, at the same time the livestock feedlots have been moving away or shutting down, regulations started eliminating landfill as an option (albeit expensive) and our remaining solution— composting operations—are reaching capacity. Fast forward to the present and what was once a revenue generator is now becoming an ever-increasing cost of doing business and new regulatory mandates are on their way. Today's meeting is a unique opportunity to begin this discussion about solutions before solutions become dictated in a way that doesn’t make sense or are cost prohibitive.”
Presenters included Hank Brady, SB 1383 Manager for the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery; Melissa Kendrick, Executive Director for the Food Bank of Monterey County; Patrick Mathews, General Manager, Chief Analytics Officer of Salinas Valley Recycles; Tim Flanagan, General Manager, Monterey Regional Waste Management District; and Keith Day, Owner of Gabilan Ag Services.
Presentations touched on solutions to food waste issues and ways in which the Monterey County Ag community could work together the meet changing regulations and improve operations.
The morning’s proceedings were capped off by a panel Q&A and series of “speed presentations” and introductions offered by Dr. Sara Pace of UC Davis, Brian Curtis, CEO of Concentric Power, and Dan Morash, Founder of California Safe Soils.
Patrick Mathews, who was on hand to discuss the new de-bagging equipment at Johnson Canyon Landfill, was impressed by the spirit of solidarity and collaboration attendees felt.
“It was wonderful to see all of us, Ag, government and solid waste industry, come together to discuss the many challenges and solutions to meet the complex new State mandates to reduce organic waste going to landfills,” Mathews told me. “These new laws affect us all and requires a collaborative solution to control costs and maintain business efficiencies.”
Melissa Kendrick discussed a new facility the Food Bank of Monterey County opened in 2019 and ways in which the Food Bank can help those in the Ag industry meet new Commercial Edible Food Requirements that are included in SB 1383.
“We are excited to work with Ag on food diversion programs to both address the aggressive mandates of SB 1383 and to help alleviate hunger in Monterey County,” said Kendrick. “34 percent of County residents are food insecure. When such a large swath of the community is hungry, it has a detrimental effect on the economy, schools, workplaces, healthcare systems, and neighborhoods. If we want our county to flourish, we must first nourish our friends and neighbors in need. By supplying produce with the help of our generous Ag partners, we are making a meaningful impact on the lives of our most vulnerable residents.”
“It’s encouraging to see local stakeholders in the agriculture and produce industry work together to develop solutions to key environmental issues,” said presenter Hank Brady. “In order for California to meet its recycling and climate change targets, every sector will need to do its part to reduce organic waste disposal.”
Reimagining Organic Waste was sponsored by Azevedo Cattle Company, Dole, Mann Packing, Gabilan Ag Services, Measure to Improve, Ippolito International, True Leaf Farms, CSS, Concentric Power, MRWMD, Salina Valley Recycles, and Waste Management.
“With more than 75 people in attendance, the Ag industry has taken its first step to finding new solutions that can turn our organic byproducts into something of value—for people, companies and the environment,” Nikki told me after the event. “The next steps and Call to Action for participants are: 1) rename organic waste to highlight its value, 2) remove contamination from organic waste stream to reduce disposal costs and increase value, and 3) measure and characterize what is being generated and how much. Then we can work together to attract entrepreneurs and investors to create new solutions.”
The Monterey County Sustainability Working Group was formed to network and share current successful sustainability efforts among agricultural producers and processors in the Central Coast region. The group hopes to lead the industry in taking a proactive approach to meeting the present and future sustainability challenges.
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