Cover: Los Angeles County's Preparedness for California's Edible Food Recovery Mandate (SB 1383)

Los Angeles County's Preparedness for California's Edible Food Recovery Mandate (SB 1383)

An Examination of Food Recovery Logistics and Other Challenges

Published Jun 21, 2022

by Alina I. Palimaru, Joslyn Fleming, Jay Balagna, Marcy Agmon, Marc Robbins, Sarah B. Hunter

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Research Questions

  1. Who are the stakeholders in food recovery and redistribution, and what roles do they fulfill?
  2. What services do these stakeholders provide, and how do they do it?
  3. What are the provision gaps, and how might they undermine the SB 1383's implementation?
  4. What resources, such as staffing and networked communications, refrigerated transport, and trained drivers, are needed to meet these food recovery goals?

Methane emissions from landfilled food are fueling our climate crisis. In 2018, 34 percent of the waste stream to California's municipal landfills was organic waste, such as food and green waste. Landfilled organic waste emits 20 percent of California's methane, and an estimated 1.1 million tons of potentially donatable food were discarded in landfills in 2018. Yet, more than 250,000 households in Los Angeles (LA) County were food insecure (i.e., without reliable access to sufficient food) in 2021.

California's 2016 food recovery mandate, Senate Bill 1383 (SB 1383), could make an important contribution toward mitigating the climate crisis and food insecurity. SB 1383 aims to divert and reduce the disposal of organic waste and therefore reduce emissions from super-pollutants, such as methane, from landfills. This effort includes the recovery of edible food for human consumption.

In this report, the authors review food recovery in LA County (focusing on the logistics of recovering excess edible food from food outlets) and specific challenges relating to SB 1383 implementation, and they suggest ways in which the mandate could be turned into an opportunity for innovation and capacity-building. They draw on past research, a review of SB 1383 government documentation, and interviews conducted in early 2022 with 38 stakeholders representing food recovery organizations (FROs) and food recovery services (FRSs); food recovery advocates; county, city, and state agencies; human services agencies (HSAs); edible food generators (EFGs); and waste haulers.

Key Findings

  • Because SB 1383 is expected to increase the amount of donated food for recovery and distribution, representatives from FROs, FRSs, and EFGs spoke about perceived deficiencies of the physical infrastructure needed to accommodate higher volumes of food. The most common challenges across FROs, FRSs, and EFGs include inadequate refrigerated transportation and cold storage facilities.
  • Given the expected increase in donated food and the formal data gathering and reporting required by SB 1383, all stakeholders described staffing challenges.
  • FROs and FRSs are funded primarily through a patchwork of public grants and philanthropy. This funding landscape creates a paradox: Organizations need more resources (e.g., staffing) to be able to compete for, acquire, and manage additional funding.
  • The sharing of information and resources may be undermined by systemic disincentives to collaborate.
  • In LA County, SB 1383 is implemented across 89 jurisdictions, which may frustrate stakeholders that operate across jurisdictions.
  • Differences in organizational motivations could impede progress.
  • Despite years of preparation, interviewees suggested that, during the first three months of 2022, staff from EFGs, FROs, HSAs, and jurisdictions were still learning about the edible food recovery part of SB 1383 and their responsibilities. Discussions noted deficiencies in public awareness about SB 1383 in general and stakeholder understanding of technical regulations.
  • Stakeholders identified disparities in capacity for food recovery and inadequate recycling infrastructure as key systemic issues. Food recovery infrastructure was perceived to be inequitably spread across the county, and concerns emerged that opportunities for waste reduction may be missed because of inadequate recycling infrastructure.

Recommendations

  • Consider funding models that are better suited to the needs of food recovery, such as joint funding of capital assets and human resources, and explore how funding models can incentivize behavioral change, such as interorganizational collaboration.
  • Examine ways to better coordinate implementation across jurisdictions, including public-private partnerships (e.g., consortia of local government agencies, human service systems, FROs, EFGs) that encourage consensus-building around food recovery best practice, encourage information-sharing, and facilitate FRO and EFG connections.
  • Continue to develop educational assets, such as CalRecycle's dedicated webpage, and promote far greater awareness of this comprehensive resource.
  • Expand statewide awareness of SB 1383 with educational and training programs that are flexible and thus capable of incorporating local jurisdictional variations.
  • Encourage innovation and help facilitate the impartial assessment of technologies that can streamline food recovery efforts.
  • Identify and reward jurisdictions and organizations that are innovative, have effective education programs, contribute to broader statewide goals, and deliver exemplary SB 1383 compliance.
  • Undertake further research to examine (1) how systemic solutions and logistics modeling could streamline service provision and more effectively use existing resources; (2) how best to fund food recovery, including a cost-benefit analysis of various funding models; (3) program evaluations and comparisons with a view toward establishing best practices in food recovery in the context of such statewide mandates; (4) preemptive waste avoidance at the food retail level; (5) future preparedness among Tier 2 donors, such as hospitals, hotels, and major event venues; and (6) how to mitigate negative byproducts of inadequate waste recycling infrastructure.

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Funding for this research was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations. This research was conducted in the Community Health and Environmental Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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