One Way to Get Companies to Care About Food Waste? Make it Profitable

It’s no secret that the issue of food waste has attracted the attention of entrepreneurs and innovators. It’s a seemingly intractable problem. And the inherent potential in intractable problems gets disruptors and investors super excited. Here’s a great example: A month ago, you may recall, we reported on an effort to convert dairy by-products into to biogas to fuel hydrogen cars. (Toyota and the dairy industry make very interesting partners.)

But why leave all that excitement to entrepreneurs, when governments can get in on it, too?

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation, an environmental association born of the NAFTA accords, is encouraging North American countries to move beyond composting, and get their major companies to start “diverting” food waste, on an industrial scale, toward conversion into new energy products.

Translation? Don’t try to get companies to care about food waste. Leverage the buying and trading powers of three massive countries, and create a market for them to profit from.

As with any initiative, first comes the data. This week, the commission released findings from a two-year study that looked into how organic waste is being thrown away, properly disposed of, and even repurposed, in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. The study defines “organic waste” as food, yard and garden debris, paper products, wood, and even pet waste. (Animal by-products weren’t included, because the countries track them differently.)

What did the researchers find? Well, one thing we already knew: North American countries, and particularly the U.S., produce a whole lot of trash. In 2014, the most recent year included in the study, the authors report that Americans generated almost 146 million tons of organic waste. Less than 20 percent of that was diverted, meaning converted or composted into a usable product. And if you look at food, which represents the majority of that organic waste, the rates are much worse—only between 3 and 8 percent of food waste is diverted.

Important caveat: Those numbers depend on the sector. The residential sector, for example, produces less food waste that the industrial and commercial sectors, but we’re much worse than our corporate counterparts in “disposing” of it—that is, throwing it out the wrong way.

When food and other organic matter decomposes in landfills, it releases carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. The result, the commission finds, is that North American food waste that’s been improperly disposed of emits up to 100 million tons of greenhouse gas every year. That’s almost half of all greenhouse gas emissions from solid waste.

There’s some good news. America is actually getting a lot better at composting that food waste. Today, thousands of composting plants are operating in Canada and the U.S., and that is reducing those emissions every year. But compliance isn’t an incentive, in and of itself.

To read the full story, visit https://newfoodeconomy.org/food-waste-study-commission-for-environmental-cooperation-nafta/.

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