Throughout 2016 and beyond, the focus on reducing food waste and diverting waste from landfills will increase among government groups, politicians and businesses while more legislation, technological innovation and industry best practices will generate more organics recycling programs.
Food waste, and specifically, what to do with it and how to reduce it, remain hot topics within the waste management, recycling, food processing, foodservice and retail industries as we usher in the new year. Many people presume that food waste is reducing over time as we all pay more attention to how we dispose of things, but Americans generate twice as much food waste today as they did in 1970. It is estimated that 90 billion pounds of edible food is uneaten each year.1 Food waste is the second largest category of municipal solid waste (MSW) sent to landfills in the U.S., accounting for approximately 18 percent of the waste stream.2 Of the more than 30 million tons of food waste sent to U.S. landfills annually, less than three percent is diverted.3 The problem extends beyond the U.S. Food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted at staggering rates around the world.
As global populations increase, we can expect corresponding increases in the demand for food and the resulting food waste. This presents many challenges: lost revenue, waste of natural resources used to grow, harvest, process and transport food, and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions as a result of more food in landfills; however, the most troubling challenge is failure to counter global hunger. Healthy food is being wasted while people around the world experience food insecurity.
Still, it is not all gloom and doom. While we have a long way to go in our fight to end hunger and eliminate food waste, this past year has demonstrated that awareness of the food waste challenges in our country is growing. In September, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the U.S.’s first-ever national food waste reduction goal: Reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030.4
Legislators, food manufacturers, restaurateurs, grocers and consumers are increasingly working to curb food waste and boost organics recycling. Consider some of the trends in organics recycling today versus one year ago.
Continued Focus on Better Food Supply Chain Planning to Reduce Organic Waste
Restaurants are increasingly looking to reduce potential for waste before it can be generated. Since 2014, “food waste reduction and management” has been included each year in the National Restaurant Association’s Top 20 Culinary Forecast.5 This annual list of anticipated food trends is based on a survey of more than 1,000 professional chefs and members of the American Culinary Federation. Better demand forecasting and meal planning can help commercial businesses limit the amount of food waste generated in their facilities. In one instance, improved forecast accuracy and better inventory management enabled a quick-service restaurant to reduce inventory by as much as 97 percent and save $2 million. That is a significant amount of food waste diverted from a landfill.
Shrinking Menus and Right-Sizing Portions to Curb Food Waste
Limiting menu options and adjusting portion sizes at restaurants, down-sizing inventories at retailers and reducing bulk and “2-for-1” offers to consumers play a role in reducing organic waste as well. I think we will continue to see a la carte menu item offerings and half-order options at restaurants that align with consumer snacking trends. We also likely will see fresh, prepared single-serving meals in supermarkets. Similarly, the rise in use of subscription meal services such as Blue Apron and HelloFresh is helping curb food waste by supplying consumers only those pre-proportioned ingredients they need to prepare a meal (no more purchasing a full jar of an ingredient you will only use a small portion of and then discarding the rest weeks later).6
More Legislation Mandating Organics Recycling
The Massachusetts Commercial Food Waste Disposal Ban that took effect in October 2014 is encouraging businesses and institutions to reduce the volume of organics in their waste streams through better planning and by donating food and increasing recycling. As a result of this legislation, there has been a five-fold increase in diversion of food scraps from landfills in the state.7 Similar disposal restrictions have been enacted in Connecticut and Vermont and an organics ban is slated to take effect in Rhode Island in 2016.8 California also has new laws that promote organics recycling and encourage composting and anaerobic digestion. These include AB 1826 which requires the state’s commercial sector, including restaurants, supermarkets, large venues and food processors, to separate food scraps and yard trimmings and arrange for organics recycling service, and AB 1594, which overturns an earlier law that allowed landfilled yard trimmings to count as being “diverted” from landfills when used as alternative daily cover at landfills instead of recycling this material through composting and anaerobic digestion.9 In 2016 and the years ahead, expect more legislation at the municipal, state and federal level designed to reduce organics waste sent to landfill.
Increased Food Donations
Perhaps due in part to the aforementioned legislation, more restaurants, grocers, food manufacturers, universities, institutions and farmers are donating excess food to food banks. That is good news for the environment and for the 48 million Americans who live in food insecure households.10 Donating surplus, blemished and soon-to-expire food to food banks enables organizations to divert waste from landfill and provide nourishing food to those in need. City Harvest, a food rescue organization in New York City, collected more than 46 million pounds of food from businesses and farmers around the country in 201411 and its rescue operations are increasing by 15 percent each year.12
While some businesses previously may have shied away from donating food out of fear of chain of custody issues and liability should the food inadvertently sicken anyone, greater awareness of liability protections under the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act have helped alleviate their concerns. Similarly, the recently proposed America Gives More Act of 2015 would afford tax incentives for donating surplus food.
Greater Availability of FOG (Fats Oils Grease) Recycling and Anaerobic Digestion Facilities
The number of anaerobic digestion facilities around the country continues to increase.13 This is good news for farmers, grocers, restaurants and institutions with surplus food that cannot be donated to food banks. They can divert organic waste that would otherwise be headed for landfills to anaerobic digesters where it will be converted into energy. Other alternatives include composting and animal-feed operations.
Increased Collaboration and Shared Best Practice
As organizations and consumers become more aware of the benefits of organics recycling and ways to reduce volumes of waste sent to landfills, we are seeing an increase in the development and sharing of best practices. This follows the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, a platform for “organizations across the food chain to share best practices on ways to reduce, recover and recycle food loss and waste” that the USDA and EPA launched in 2013.14 Restaurant chains are determining what kinds of signage and training are most effective in helping employees become more cognizant of food waste and compliant with employer and industry recycling requirements. Among food processors, supermarkets and other institutions we are increasingly seeing case studies and established best practices that promote successful organics recycling programs.
Expect these trends to continue throughout 2016 and into the next year. And, notice the enthusiasm that surrounds organics recycling. Increasingly, businesses and consumers are recognizing the need for and value of organics recycling programs; they realize the opportunities such programs afford to achieve cost savings, feed the hungry and protect the environment. The focus on reducing food waste and diverting waste from landfills will increase among government groups, politicians and businesses while more legislation, technological innovation and industry best practices will generate more organics recycling programs. That is something to cheer about. Happy New Year! | WA
Anthony DiIenno is president of HAVI Global Solutions’ Recycling & Waste Solutions (Downers Grove, IL). He is a third-generation recycler with 30 years of recycling and waste solutions experience. Recycling & Waste Solutions enables businesses to achieve their sustainability goals, increase efficiency while reducing costs and keep ahead of growing regulatory demands for greater environmental responsibility. For more information, visit www.havigs.com.
Buzby, J.C., Wells, H.F., and Hyman, J. 2014. “The Estimated Amount, Value, and Calories of Postharvest Food Losses at the Retail and Consumer Levels in the United States. Economic Research Service,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Information Bulletin Number 121 (Feb.). See more at www.choosemyplate.gov/lets-talk-trash#sthash.3hGVybV1.cpl80VDj.dpuf
Business Analysis of Anaerobic Digestion in the USA. March 2013. Renewable Waste Intelligence. www.renewable-waste.com/anaerobic-digestion-conference/