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As discussed in Part 3 of KTL’s series on Creating Sustainable Impacts, wasting food has impacts on the sustainability of our economy, our society, and the environment. Whether it comes from filling landfills, contributing to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, consuming valuable resources, or contributing to food insecurity, the magnitude of these impacts is substantial.
Food loss occurs at every stage of the supply chain—from farm to table. How that loss is managed plays a vital role in how it impacts our society. Federal and state regulatory agencies are taking notice of this and incenting—or requiring—organizations to incorporate sustainable food management practices into their operations.
Joining Forces to Address Wasted Food
In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) joined forces to address the magnitude of wasted food impacts across the U.S. through the U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champion program. This joint initiative includes more than 35 member organizations that have made a public commitment to reduce food loss and waste in their own operations by 50% by 2030. This commitment to sustainable food waste management aligns directly with the United Nation’s (UN’s) Sustainable Development Goals.
The Food Recovery Challenge offers participants access to data management software, as well as technical assistance to help them quantify and improve their sustainable food management practices. Participants create data-driven goals, implement targeted strategies to reduce wasted, and report food waste diversion data. They then receive an annual climate profile report that translates their food diversion results into GHG reductions, as well as other measures to help demonstrate the benefits of activities implemented.
The ultimate goal of the Challenge is to encourage organizations to use materials more productively over their entire lifecycle through actions that reflect the food recovery hierarchy, including source reduction, donation, feeding animals, industrial uses, and composting, to divert and prevent food from entering landfills.
Efforts to promote sustainable food management have also extended to the state level. California Senate Bill (SB) 1383 is currently the most far-reaching state-level wasted food legislation. The bill mandates a 50% reduction in organic waste disposal from 2014 levels by 2020 and a 75% reduction by 2025. In addition, SB 1383 requires that not less than 20% of edible food that is currently disposed be recovered for human consumption by 2025. The enforcement provisions of the SB 1383 regulations become effective on January 1, 2022.
Harvesting the Benefits
Transitioning to an organization that champions and promotes sustainable food management requires a culture change across the entire entity, not just a single person or department. That is because the potential to create positive impacts—financial, community, environmental—span the entire food supply chain. Wasted food is a problem on many levels. Sustainable food manage provides the opportunity to not only solve that problem, but deliver many benefits:
- Pay less for trash pickup by keeping wasted food out of the garbage.
- Receive tax benefits by donating safe and edible food to those who are food insecure.
- Spend less—and waste less—by buying only food that will be used.
- Reduce costs (e.g., energy, labor) associated with throwing food away.
- Feed the people who need it by donating food to hunger relief organizations.
- Create job opportunities; food recycling employs more than 36,000 people.
- Reduce methane emissions by keeping wasted food that rots and produces methane gas out of the landfills.
- Save the resources required to make food that ends up wasted (e.g., water, gasoline, energy, labor, land).
- Return nutrients to the land by composting wasted food to make healthy soils.
Through sustainable food management, it is possible to help businesses and consumers save money, create outlets for those in our communities who do not have enough to eat, and conserve resources for future generations.