New Federal Bills Target Food Waste

New Federal Bills Target Food Waste

A new series of bills have been introduced in Congress that aim to quell food waste. These bills -- the Zero Food Waste Act and the Cultivating Organic Matter through the Promotion of Sustainable Techniques Act (COMPOST Act) -- will reduce food waste and in turn help create jobs, slow climate change, and improve soil health.

Why This Matters

Though at least one in eight people in the US experience food insecurity, 35% of all food goes unsold or uneaten -- and most of that goes to waste -- along with the $408 billion spent on growing, transporting, and disposing of it.

Additionally, a new report out today from WWF and Tesco called Driven to Waste, quantifies the total amount of food lost on farms globally, revealing an estimated 2.5 billion tons of food goes uneaten around the world each year. Wasting less food and eating what we  grow can ensure that everyone has enough to eat while also addressing emissions from agriculture.

RTS: Food Waste in America in 2021 - Statistics & Facts.

Environmental Impacts of Uneaten Food

When food goes uneaten, the resources used to produce it go to waste as well. If all of our country's surplus food was grown in one place, this “mega-farm” would cover roughly 80 million acres, over three-quarters of the state of California. Growing the food on this wasteful farm would consume all the water used in California and Idaho combined. The farm would harvest enough food to fill a 40-ton tractor every 20 seconds. Many of those trailers would travel thousands of miles, distributing food to be kept cold in refrigerators and grocery stores for weeks. But instead of being purchased, prepared, and eaten, this perfectly good food would be loaded onto another line of trucks and hauled to a landfill, where it would emit a harmful stream of greenhouse gases as it decomposes. (Source: ReFED.)

Waste Not Want Not

The Zero Food Waste Act would establish an EPA program that would give grants to state, tribal, and local governments to develop programs that prevent food waste. These programs could include projects that find the largest sources of food waste, mitigate food waste, rescue food scraps, and create incentives for composting. An annual award of $650 million will be granted for such projects through 2030.

Meanwhile, the COMPOST Act will help make sure food scraps are composted and returned to the soil. The bill would make compost projects eligible for federal funding by designating composting as an approved conservation practice, and would distribute $200 million annually for such projects over the next 10 years. According to US PIRG, Americans landfilled or incinerated over 50 million tons of compostable waste in 2015 -- enough to fill a line of fully-loaded 18-wheelers, stretching from New York City to Los Angeles ten times. Increasing capacity for compost is important to mitigating emissions by keeping organic matter out of landfills where it emits methane.

Both acts will prioritize proposals from communities of color, low-income communities, and Tribal communities, who are disproportionately affected by the food waste crisis.

These bills will push forward the US Food Loss and Waste Action Plan, a project by the NRDC, WWF, Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, and ReFED, which asked for leadership from the federal government to achieve the national goal of reducing food waste by 50% by 2030.

As Pete Pearson, WWF's global food loss and waste lead said:

Organic waste is the number one item by volume entering our landfills and is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire US airline industry, all while millions of Americans experience hunger. Simply put, food is too valuable to throw away. The Zero Food Waste Act would support state, local, and tribal communities making the policy changes and infrastructure investments needed to develop a circular food economy, invest in community health and jobs, and curb greenhouse gas emissions. By leading here at home, the US can show the world how to invest in food systems where people and nature thrive.

Deeper Dive

Read ReFED's "The Challange" and its February 2021 report Roadmap to 2030: Reducing U.S. Food Waste by 50%.

ReFED: Surplus Food Across the Supply Chain

Surplus food is often considered to be a singular problem, but it's an entirely different situation for hundreds of tons of broccoli to go unharvested on a farm compared to a half-full platter of uneaten potatoes that's scraped into the trash at home. Loss and waste occur at each stage of the supply chain, with the majority happening at consumer-facing businesses -- including grocery stores, restaurants, and other businesses that sell and serve food -- and in homes. Food waste is systemic in nature, and it's important to recognize that what happens at one stage is often influenced by something that happens at another stage, either upstream or downstream.

Kiss The Ground: The Compost Story, May 8, 2017.