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Suburbs, Pollution, and the Canneries: The Cannery Waste Problem

     Have you ever made a fruit salad from fresh fruit?  After all the washing, peeling, and chopping, you end up with a delicious, attractive combination of fruits.  You also end up with a pile of peels, rinds, pieces and often fruit juice splatter.  You probably also used water to wash some of your fruits and let that drain out of the sink.  Often, people at home just throw the scraps in the trash, down the garbage disposal, feed them to pets, or maybe throw them in a compost pile outside. 

     California fruit processing plants produced thousands of tons of waste every day during the packing season.  They did try to use as much as they can in by products.  For example, they sold peach pits to be used for fuel and cosmetics.  However, a large part of the waste was a sludgy wastewater concoction of crushed fruit pieces and water from preparing fruit for canning cleaning the canneries.  As canneries processed more fruit, the problem only increased. 

In the twentieth century, there were several ways canners disposed of their sludgy wastewater.  They dumped it on rural undeveloped land, in rivers, in the San Francisco Bay.  Sometimes they sent it to municipal waste processing plants.  Canners chose how to dispose of cannery wastewater based on a combination of factors: cost, regulation, type of waste, and the geography around their cannery. 

    Starting in the 1940s, the population of San Jose, Santa Clara County, and the East Bay increased. 

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     As suburban neighborhoods popped up, the new homes had many new appliances, including garbage disposals.  Rather than throw food waste into the trash, people used the garbage disposal to grind up food waste and flush it away with the rest of their sink water. The widespread use of the garbage disposal changed the ratio of organic material to water in sewage processed at plants.  That combined with the higher number of people producing wastewater put pressure on existing sewage systems. 

     The combination of increased waste by fruit processors and homeowners combined with increased public health regulation made waste disposal became a very expensive part of doing business.      The Bay-Delta region has many sources of water, including the bay, the Pacific Ocean, and various rivers. This meant that for a while there was enough water volume and flow to dissipate the waste dumped into the bay.  By the middle of the 20th century, so many people were dumping waste into the bay that the tides could not wash enough away into the ocean, and it became incredibly polluted and activists began to advocate for regulation.  New regulations required canners to find new ways to dispose of cannery fruit wastes.    


California League of Food Processors Papers, University of California - Davis, Shields Library Special Collections

The Modesto Bee

Lodi News-Sentinel

Oakland Tribune

San Leandro Morning News

Haywood Daily Review

San Francisco Chronicle

 Tri/Valley Growers: 50 Years of Survival and Growth, 1932-1982. S.l.: Tri/Valley Growers, 1982.

 Tri/Valley, Growers. Tri/Valley Growers Annual Report 1969. San Francisco, CA: Tri/Valley Growers, 1969.

Helphinstine, William N. "Using Cannery Wastes on Forage Cropland." California Agriculture 30, no. 9 (Sept. 1976): 6-7.

Reed, A. D. and et al. "Soil Recycling of Cannery Wastes." California Agriculture 27, no. 3 (Mar. 1973): 6-9.