New York’s Food Donation and Food Scraps Recycling Law officially went into effect on January 1st of this year. This law, passed as part of the New York State budget in 2019, requires businesses and institutions that generate an annual average of two tons of wasted food per week or more to: 1) donate excess edible food and 2) recycle all remaining food scraps if they are within 25 miles of an organics recycler (composting facility, anaerobic digester, etc.).

The law does not apply to New York City (which already has a local law in place requiring the diversion of food scraps from disposal), hospitals, nursing homes, adult care facilities, K-12 schools, or farms. This new law is a critical step in beginning to stem the tide of food going to waste here in New York, where an estimated 7.8 billion pounds of food is going to waste each year, generating more GHGs than four million passenger cars driven for a year. What’s most exciting about New York’s Food Donation and Food Scraps Recycling Law is the explicit codification of the food recovery hierarchy and inclusion of solutions that go further up the hierarchy including food rescue and encouraging food waste prevention.

Notably, on food rescue, the law requires all designated generators to separate wholesome food and offer it for donation. On prevention, the law requires the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to develop educational materials on food waste prevention and encourage municipalities to share these materials with their residents as well.

In addition to the law itself, the state has allocated funding that supports food waste work from prevention through recycling — through funding for municipalities and technical assistance for generators. The state has also made funding available for the food rescue community to improve their infrastructure, such as by adding refrigerated trucks and storage needed for increased donations. These kinds of actions further up the hierarchy are essential to more fully realizing the environmental and social benefits of preventing food waste.

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Authors: Margaret Brown and Yvette Cabrera, NRDC
Image: NRDC