Following a review of national and global programs, the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) Applied Research Foundation has released a report that concludes a significant amount of additional food waste processing capacity will be required to achieve national, state, provincial, and local food waste diversion goals. The report also emphasizes the need for local decision-making in selecting and implementing those food waste diversion programs.

Interest in the recovery of food waste from municipal solid waste (MSW) is growing rapidly as a result of a joint goal to reduce the amount of food waste lost and disposed 50% by the year 2030, announced in late 2015 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Many major metropolitan areas lack sufficient processing capacity to handle that level of food waste diversion. Several states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, condition their food waste diversion requirements on the ability of generators to access adequate capacity within a certain distance.

The announcement of the federal goal identified 66.5 million tons of food per year lost and wasted in the United States and established a food recovery hierarchy that begins with source reduction and feeding hungry people, then works its way to less preferred options. “We believe that Americans need to rethink how food is handled, before it is considered waste, to divert it into programs to feed people, and to find other productive uses for food as food,” said SWANA Executive Director and CEO David Biderman. “Once it becomes waste, however, municipal decision-makers, working with their processing partners, need to determine how to best manage the material.”

The ARF Report focused on the effects of food recovery on the two lowest tiers of the hierarchy – composting and landfilling/incineration. It concluded that much of the food waste diverted from those operations has the potential to be processed at composting facilities, and that anaerobic digestion (AD) and co-digestion at wastewater treatment facilities are also likely destinations for diverted food waste. “The food recovery hierarchy does not apply universally,” said Jeremy O’Brien, Director of the Applied Research Foundation (ARF). He noted “an analysis of greenhouse gas impacts based on local data and conditions is needed to identify the best food scraps management options for a specific community.”

The report encourages solid waste managers to perform a life cycle analysis of economic and environmental costs and benefits based on local needs, system capabilities and data in order to identify the most effective ways to manage food waste at the local level. SWANA is a long-time advocate for local decision-making in establishing programs to collect and manage municipal solid waste.

For more information, visit