How are Different States in the US Addressing the Problem of Food Waste Disposal?

States all around the US are looking for better ways to manage the growing problem of food that is being wasted, including the good food that never makes it to the table due to spoilage and the food-preparation scraps and uneaten food that end up in US landfills. Food waste disposed to landfill is not only a problem in terms of atmospheric warming methane gases - that portion not captured for reuse - but of road congestion and local air quality due to diesel trucks going to and from them, and the billions of dollars in value lost.

Many states now have, and many are considering, legislation to remove food waste from the waste stream by reidentifying it as a resource, not a waste. Whether by composting – aerobically and anaerobically – or as part of the mix to generate energy from waste, food is being reimagined as a renewable resource.

But what about the public – individuals as well as the business community? Improving public awareness is a big challenge, but not as big as changing the public’s behavior. Waste managers the world over are struggling with how to change behavior with carrots rather than sticks. The general public is more interested in what they buy, or what is coming to their plate as the next meal than they are about what happens to what’s left when it’s thrown away. It’s out-of-site out-of-mind because food waste is unappealing and smelly once we no longer want it. Much the same goes for business: food services companies, restaurants, and large catering services are more worried about odors, litter, spillage, and pests than about taking steps to recycle or repurpose their food waste. But the US is waking up to the problem.

Let’s consider the seriousness of this issue by considering a single restaurant. According to an analysis by the Green Restaurant Association, a single restaurant can produce approximately 25,000 to 75,000 pounds of food waste in one year. Conservatively, that’s 50 to 100 pounds of food waste a day – or as much as 3,000 pounds - one and a half tons - a month. And a 2014 study by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance found that 84.3% of unused food in the average American restaurants ends up being disposed of, while only 14.3% is recycled, and 1.4% is donated.

In contrast, if that amount of food waste was composted on a daily basis, and depending on the process used, 3,000 pounds of food waste could be reduced to as little as 350 to 400 pounds of nutrient-rich compost a month. That’s nearly two and a half tons of nutrient-rich resource rather than 18 tons of methane-producing waste in a landfill annually. That’s just from one restaurant – consider the national implications.

States across the country are trying, or considering, a variety of initiatives to solve this issue. We plan to monitor their progress and will use this space to write about the steps taken by each state as they emerge – what works and what falls flat.

So please come back to our News page often for more on what different states are doing to realize the value in food waste as a resource.

Manish Desai, President, and Founder, and Charles Nouhan, Sustainability Advisor, EcoRich LLC

Charles Nouhan