Targeting food waste

Features - Organics Recycling

State and federal legislation is creating opportunities and difficulties for those who manage food scraps as a resource.

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May 4, 2016

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Legislators, regulators and private industry have put a greater emphasis on reducing and recycling food scraps in recent years. While laws and initiatives surrounding food waste may be more aggressive in certain regions and by certain companies, the push to divert these materials continues to grow nationwide.

Kevin Krashaar, vice president of government affairs for the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA), a Washington-based trade association representing private-sector U.S. waste and recycling companies, as well as manufacturers and service providers that do business with those companies, stays abreast of the legislative and regulatory activities taking place in the arena of food waste across the U.S.

He observes, “At the state level in particular, there’s been a lot of action legislatively in some of the smaller states and in California. What the bills generally do is mandate or require a certain food waste be diverted out of a landfill and to a composting facility or anaerobic digester.”

Broadly speaking, Krashaar says, “There are goals established in those pieces of legislation that require some amounts of food waste be disposed of in a separate manner than the rest from the normal waste stream.”

Those operating waste and recycling services in the states of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont and California likely have been affected by these laws. While most of these business have accepted the challenges and opportunities that go along with these laws, Krashaar says problems can occur if the infrastructure to handle the influx of food waste is not in place.

WORDS TO THE WISE

“Our member companies have embraced the further exploration and innovation that is necessary to be a part of the recycling of food waste,” Krashaar says. “Units of government have to be very careful they’re not mandating things they don’t have the infrastructure or capacity to handle.”

He recalls an ordinance that was pending in one city that would have required restaurants and schools to separate food waste, but the community didn’t have any composing facilities in the area able to handle the material. He also knows museums in the District of Columbia have attempted to divert food waste from cafeterias but haven’t been able to find a facility to accept it.

Some companies are finding their own solutions to divert food waste when insufficient infrastructure gets in the way of their sustainability plans. When Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Chico, California, wanted to compost its organic waste, the closest facility was more than 150 miles away. The company tried unsuccessfully to get the city and county it operates in to open a compost facility, so the company purchased equipment to compost food scraps, yard waste and spent hops and grain on its own.

“Our members want to be part of comprehensive waste solutions, but it is going to take some time before we have the infrastructure in place, the technology in place and the equipment in place to be successful at doing what everyone wants to do, which is obviously take the food waste out of the waste stream,” Krashaar says.

He adds that it is a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario. To build the facilities, you have to have the supply, but you can’t get the supply without the legislation.

Massachusetts and California are working to get infrastructure in place by making grant funding available for anaerobic digestion projects.

A TALE OF TWO BILLS

At the federal level, two bills have been introduced to Congress in the last year with different goals in mind.

H.R. 4382, introduced by Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-California, amends the Federal Food Donation Act of 2008. Krashaar describes it as a bill requiring federal contractors to submit annual reports on the weight of food that was disposed of by donation, composting or discarding.

H.R. 4184, The Food Recovery Act, is a much more comprehensive bill introduced by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine. It tackles wasted food in four areas: at the consumer level; in grocery stores and restaurants; in schools and other institutions; and on the farm.

In Krashaar’s 20 years of working on Capitol Hill issues, he says this is the first bill he has seen with six committee referrals. It would provide tax credits for charitable contributions of food and amend school nutrition guidelines and other U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs to promote local agricultural products. It includes food labeling provisions as a way to curb premature disposal of food that may be past the manufacture’s recommended expiration date but still safe to eat. It also would create an office of food recovery within the USDA to coordinate federal activities on food recovery and food waste.

Krashaar says NWRA is talking with the Food Marketing Institute, National Restaurant Association and grocery manufactures on whether parts of the bill could move forward.

The NWRA has not taken an official stance on the bill, and Krashaar predicts neither H.R. 4382 or H.R. 4184 will see much movement in this election year.

No matter what happens in the future, Krashaar says, “Industry and government have to work together to make sure the capacity is in place before they move forward on what is a worthy goal.”

The author is an editor with the Recycling Today Media Group and can be reached at ksmith@gie.net.