Some local grocers and national retailers are taking a harder look at what’s in their trash to increase the bottom line by diverting food from landfills and to those most needing it. Wegmans Food Markets joined an effort late last year with several businesses and the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture to cut food waste in half by 2030.
“Food waste has taken a front and center stage because, quite frankly, it’s the largest amount of what we are finding in our trash these days,” said Jason Wadsworth, a manager of sustainability at Wegmans. “It’s also how we can make the most significant change, not only for what’s ending up in landfills but for our communities.”
He declined to disclose how much Wegmans spends on hauling food waste, but said finding ways to keep items out of the landfill would reduce overhead costs for the Gates-based grocer. “If we reduce waste, Wegmans doesn’t have to pay to send it to a landfill — that is as simple as I can make it,” Wadsworth said.
In 2010, roughly 30 percent, or about 133 billion pounds, of all food in the United States went uneaten, according to estimates from the Department of Agriculture. The typical family of four spent an average of roughly $1,500 on food they just throw out. Some have put those numbers even higher.
“Consumers don’t even realize how much food is wasted,” said Callie Babbit, an associate professor of sustainability at Rochester Institute of Technology. “We walk into a grocery store and we see these vast aisles of food and it seems like it’s a readily available resource.”
Forcing the issue?
Food, Babbit said, has become the single largest item in American landfills, amounting on a daily basis to a pile of garbage the size of a 90,000-seat stadium. Researchers at RIT have received a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to create a better farm-to-table supply chain to reduce food waste, its environmental impact and create new economic opportunities.
Lawmakers in various parts of the country have already implemented plans to cut down on discarded food, which is widely known to produce methane as it slowly decomposes in landfills. For instance, Seattle and San Francisco have citywide composting programs. Seattle, New York City, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, California and Connecticut currently ban food scraps from landfills, according to the U.S. Composting Council.
In New York state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo first introduced the idea of a landfill ban last year. Implementation of the idea was slowed down for further study. The governor announced earlier this year in his State of the State address new plans to reduce methane emissions at landfills, suggesting new regulations requiring the largest producers of food waste to divert edible food to food banks along with other measures. The legislation would apply to supermarkets, restaurants, colleges, hospitals and those producing more than two tons of waste per week.
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