Maryland farms could get new opportunities to profit from food waste as the state begins requiring large food producers to recycle. Hospitals, stadiums and other entities producing at least 2 tons of food waste per week will, starting in January, have to send their nutrient-rich scraps to an anaerobic digester, compost facility or livestock feeding operation instead of a landfill or incinerator. Supporters hope the law, passed in 2021, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and benefit farmers. The program tackles a glaring inefficiency in U.S. food production. A third of the country’s food goes uneaten, and less than 20% of the discarded material gets repurposed, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Maryland’s approach should raise that percentage while conserving scarce space in the state’s landfills. Washington state, which has had a food diversion program since the 1980s, has steered over 1.5 million tons of distillery waste to livestock feed, said Shannon McDonald, a natural resource planner at the Department of the Environment.

McDonald helped write Maryland’s legislation and will conduct education and compliance efforts once the law goes into effect. She spoke Oct. 28 at the University of Maryland’s Agricultural and Environmental Law Conference. Maryland defines food residuals as both pre-consumer and post-consumer scraps — not merely kitchen waste. The law could apply to a wide range of organizations but has a number of nuances.

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