The law, S.B. 1383, which took effect in January, "requires supermarkets and other big food providers to divert as much as a quarter of edible food now destined for dumps to food banks to feed the needy," the Los Angeles Times reported in December. "It tasks cities and counties with formulating local plans, with a statewide goal of recovering 20% of edible food by 2025," Reuters reported earlier this month. S.B. 1383 is the nation's first statewide law to require businesses to donate excess food to be eaten by hungry people. Compliance requirements, which will ultimately include fines, are being phased in. "First, large grocery stores and food wholesalers; later, restaurants and cafeterias will have to comply or face fines," ABC7 reported last week.
In addition to fighting hunger, the law was also intended to combat food waste—which has an outsized contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, as food sent to landfills belches methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The massive scale of food waste is an enormous problem. As I detail in my book Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, nearly 40 percent of all our food—roughly 40 million tons of it—goes to waste in the field, during processing, in transit, at the store, and/or on the plate. The value of that lost food totals more than $165 billion every year. Ten percent of the money Americans spend on food goes to waste. The environmental costs of that waste are colossal. Food waste is the third-leading contributor to atmospheric greenhouse gasses. And food that's wasted still uses the same inputs to grow—water, fertilizer, pesticides, fuel, wages—as food that's eaten. "Those resources are all used up whether a food is eaten or is left to rot in a field or landfill," I note in the book.
Giddy supporters have been busy touting the upside of California law. "This will reduce food waste and address food insecurity for millions of people," Alhambra Mayor Sasha Renée Pérez tweeted earlier this year. "California leads again!" Last month, San Diego's CBS affiliate reported the law had caused a dramatic jump in food donations there, calling the law "great news" because it means "more food going to residents of San Diego that might otherwise go hungry [and] that food won't have the opportunity to rot in a landfill and emit harmful greenhouse gasses in the process."