Armed with knowledge, empathy, and vision, Long Beach resident Renate Boronowsky is a local leader in the quest to address the enormous challenge of global food waste. “If harmful emissions from global food waste were rated as if they were a country, they would be third on the list — right behind the United States and China,” she said. Along with other members of Long Beach Fresh’s Compost and Food Waste Working Group, which she started, Boronowsky is working diligently with the City of Long Beach and other like-minded organizations to create solutions to this urgent crisis.
“I’m an environmentalist focused primarily on sustainable food systems,” said Boronowsky, who earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Geography and Environmental Studies with a minor in Geographic Information Systems from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). A true dynamo, she is currently studying for her Ph.D. in Environmental Science at UCLA while raising her four-year-old twins, staying engaged with the sustainable food community, and running an environmental and social justice book club, which she founded and is now operating in collaboration with Long Beach’s Bel Canto Books.
Organic, or “green” waste — such as food scraps and yard trimmings — makes up around 50% of what Californians dump in landfills. This waste produces 20% of the state’s methane emissions, which are classified as a “climate super-pollutant” 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Still, Boronowsky is optimistic. “Addressing food waste emissions is actually a ‘low-hanging fruit’ for environmental justice and improvement,” said Boronowsky. “There are some relatively easy infrastructure options available.”
Many of these options center around diverting green waste from the waste stream and re-purposing it to be used in the making of compost, the nutrition-rich byproduct of decaying organic material. “There are numerous benefits when adding compost to soil,” said Boronowsky. “Healthy soil retains water better, which helps during droughts. Micro-organisms in compost create more available nutrients; A single teaspoon of compost carries billions of live organisms that help make nutrients bio-available.
“Soil health is very underrated,” she continued. “In the past 200 years we’ve lost something like 50% of our arable soil. Some scientists theorize that the nutritional content of our food is different because of how humans have impacted the quality of the soil.”
Boronowsky, who was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area, took a roundabout path to the world of sustainable food; After working as an esthetician for 12 years and performing countless bikini waxings, she decided to return to school and enroll in a pre-nursing curriculum at El Camino College. Her career direction changed during an Environmental Biology class taught by Long Beach’s Karla Villatoro. “Karla’s class totally changed my path,” Boronowsky said. “I knew that climate change was something I should care about. In theory, I cared about public health, but Karla’s class showed me how dire the situation is. If we don’t change dramatically, there may be a difficult future for our kids.”
Boronowsky changed her major, transferred to UCLA, gave birth to her twins during her last year of study, and served as an intern for the City of Long Beach, mapping out vacant lots for possible urban agriculture use, and studying air quality indicators in economically disadvantaged housing tracts. Later that year, she walked down the graduation aisle carrying her then-eight month old kids.
After staying at home to raise her kids for three years, Boronowsky met Ryan Smolar and Tony Damico during Long Beach Fresh’s annual Food Summit. “That was a big eye-opener about how many other people in Long Beach care about sustainable food,” she said. “There was a big sense of community I hadn’t experienced before.”
After establishing herself with Long Beach Fresh, Boronowsky began networking with local organizations such as the California Food and Farm Network, Long Beach Community Compost, and East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. She also represents Long Beach Fresh in the Los Angeles chapter of the California Alliance for Community Composting.
The passage of California state bill SB 1383 in 2016 established several green waste emissions milestones, including a 50% reduction in statewide organic waste disposal by 2020 and a 75% reduction by 2020. The City of Long Beach is doing its part, researching how to bring green bin services to residents as part of a multi-faceted waste reduction program. The City also helped translate a Long Beach Fresh green waste survey which will be sent to all corners of Long Beach. The responses will help to gauge public awareness and willingness to contribute to such programs as well-managed compost piles in publicly accessible spaces.
Boronowsky and her colleagues will be working with great urgency to advance this cause, setting the stage for healthier food-growing venues, while helping Long Beach meet climate goals, and move towards environmental justice and equity. “If we don’t start making large-scale changes in our overarching political and economic systems,” she said, “we won’t make change fast enough. We can focus on individual impact only so much. We’ve only reached sustainability when sustainable solutions are available to everybody.”
Story and photos by Matt Cohn – Matt is a writer, musician, history buff, gardener, photographer, life-long Long Beachian, adventurer and bon vivant. He has written and produced great local content for the LBPost.com, City of Long Beach, Downtown Long Beach Alliance, 99.1 KLBP and other fine local publications and media.