As much as 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. never gets eaten, wasting resources and money, filling landfills and harming the environment. More urgently, there are millions of families who struggle to afford food, while there are mountains of it decaying in the trash. But these states are changing that, using strategies to keep food out of landfills and get it to hungry families. Their policies signal that officials are recognizing the economic, social and environmental benefits that come with making food waste reduction a priority.
Vermont – In a few years, Vermont will allow exactly zero food to be thrown away ― whether you’re a restaurant chain filling dumpsters each week or just a guy clearing old food out of his fridge. In 2012, the state took a close look at its trash, and found that over half of the material in landfills was recyclables and organic waste. That year, the state legislature overwhelmingly passed its universal recycling law. It includes a ban on organic waste in landfills that will be phased in gradually, starting with companies that generate a large amount of food waste. Instead of tossing food, businesses can donate anything salvageable to groups that serve meals to the needy. Between July 2015 and March 2016, 1.6 million pounds of excess food were donated to the Vermont Foodbank, nearly doubling donations in the previous 12 months, Jamieson said. For food that cannot be donated, the state has been beefing up its infrastructure for more sustainable processing, including composting. Composting is considered one of the last resorts for preventing food waste, but it’s still better than putting food in a landfill. Compost gives off carbon dioxide as the waste decomposes, but when food waste breaks down in landfills, it releases methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. And compost is actually put to productive use, acting as a natural fertilizer to improve soil on farms and elsewhere. The final step of the law takes effect in 2020, requiring all individuals to separate and compost their food scraps. To prepare for the change, next year, garbage collectors that offer curbside pickup will be required to collect food waste as well. Trash drop-off sites and landfills will also have to accept compost.
Massachusetts – The state instituted a food waste ban in 2014 that prohibits businesses and institutions generating a ton or more of food waste weekly, such as grocery stores, hospitals, colleges, breweries and larger restaurants, from throwing food in the trash. What makes the state’s landfill ban particularly effective, is Massachusetts’ simultaneous investment in technical assistance to help waste generators, processors and municipalities reduce waste. Massachusetts also offers a number of grants for waste diversion programs and funds RecylingWorks, a program that helps businesses figure out how to comply with the waste ban. In one town, RecyclingWorks got eight restaurants that aren’t subject to the ban to start composting.
Ohio – The Ohio Food Purchase Agricultural Clearance Program is a 17-year-old partnership between the state’s food bank network and over 100 farmers. The program receives over $9 million in state funding annually, an amount much higher than the few similar programs in other states. When farmers have surplus crops, they get reimbursed to pick, pack and deliver produce to food banks. It gives the agriculture industry an economic boost while getting fresh, healthy food to families in need. Early estimates suggest that in the 2015 fiscal year, the program helped farms distribute over 40 million pounds of food, or about 33 million meals.
California – By 2020, the state wants 75 percent of waste that would previously end up in landfills to instead be reduced, recycled or composted. The state’s Farm to Family program is similar to the partnership in Ohio, though without direct state funding. The program brought more than 100 million pounds of farmers’ extra crops to food banks last year. The state offers tax incentives to farmers who donate produce and the haulers who transport it to nonprofits.
From Huff Post Photo Credit John Vlahakis