How The EPA’s New Strategy And The US Food Waste Pact Can Make a Difference 

As we head into the end of 2023, we have come into some exciting food waste news sure to brighten your holidays—just in time for Christmas dinner. Two of the biggest leaders in food waste mitigation have come out with new collaborations to help fight the problem, including the EPA’s Draft National Strategy for Reducing Food Loss and Waste and Recycling Organics and the US Food Waste Pact.

The Problem With Food Waste

Whether you’re a mom trying to get a picky toddler to clear their plate or an average guy (or gal) trying to eat healthier, food waste has been a sore spot for nearly all of us. 

It’s also a sore spot for the environment, as nearly 60% of methane admissions from landfills comes from organics—aka, yard and food waste. 

This problem isn’t going away, either—in fact, it’s growing. The EPA reported that 62.5 million tons of food was landfilled in 2020, which is literally double the amount in 1990. 

Nearly 40% of all food goes uneaten, and food waste alone contributes 6% to our natural greenhouse gas emissions. That’s a ton of money down the drain—over $4 billion, to be precise. 

Home composting and community campaigns are wonderful, but a problem of this scale needs a solution at that same scale. And based on the events from the past few weeks, we may have a top-down solution finally in the works. 

Draft National Strategy for Reducing Food Loss and Waste and Recycling Organics 

This year during COP28 (the annual climate conference), the EPA announced their Draft National Strategy for Reducing Food Loss and Waste and Recycling Organics

The current organics recycling infrastructure nationwide isn’t enough to tackle the food waste problem at scale—yet. This strategy hopes to lend a top-down approach to the food waste crisis by increasing the recycling rate for organic waste and supporting policies that incentivize food waste prevention. 

Building Funding and Strengthening Existing Infrastructure

This strategy also aims to bridge the gaps between infrastructure and programs that already exist, strengthening the assets that already exist and helping them work together more efficiently. These include the existing research and funding opportunities between the EPA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Food and Drug Administration, as well as programs such as the Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling Grant Program and Recycling Education and Outreach Grant Program, the USDA’s Composting and Food Waste Reduction program, and EPA’s Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling program.

The strategy also emphasizes the need to build out infrastructure in historically disadvantaged communities and argues that grant funding should go to projects in these areas as part of the Justice40 initiatives. 

As part of the strategy, the agencies also plan to support anaerobic digestion via grants and loans to agricultural producers, water resource recovery facilities, and municipalities. These programs could receive funding through the USDA Rural Energy for America Program and the EPA’s AgStAR program. 

Over the next three years, the USDA also plans to invest $30 million into its Composting and Food Waste Reduction cooperative agreement program, where local government and private sector companies can develop municipal compost plans or food waste reduction plans. 

Research and Data 

The strategy also aims to strengthen the data portion of the food waste problem, including a suite of research and data measures to track the issues and continually report on their progress. One of these efforts includes the development of a decision support tool that would help local governments choose circular solutions, as well as a newly announced strategy to better track and monitor landfill methane emissions. 

The strategy also draws attention to the $1.5 million research program as part of the USDA Center for Research, Behavioral Economics, and Extension on Food, Loss, and Waste Center to help address inefficiency in the food system. 

The strategy’s ultimate goal is to report this data in a way that agencies can use it become proactive instead of reactive in addressing the food waste issue. 

Looking To The Future

According to the USDA, one-third of all food in the US goes uneaten. That’s a lot of food waste—which means every little bit that this strategy would save would make a huge difference. 

For now, the strategy is open for public comment until January 4th, so be sure to submit your thoughts for review! Once compiled, the strategy will go into effect sometime in 2024. 

In the meantime, the strategy also makes note of another big piece of food waste news: namely, the national pact between ReFED, grocers, food manufacturers, and more. 

The US Food Waste Pact

The nonprofit organization ReFED and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently announced the U.S. Food Waste Pact. This is a national voluntary agreement is meant to drive collaboration and data-driven action to help meet both national and international food waste reduction targets, including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12.3. 

The pact currently includes multiple Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment members, including ALDI, Aramark, Bob’s Red Mill, Compass Group USA, Del Monte Fresh Produce Company, Lamb Weston, Raley’s, Sodexo USA, Walmart, and Whole Foods.

These businesses (along with all other businesses encouraged to join) will agree to work towards a 50% reduction in food waste, anonymously measure and report their current food waste data annually, and join their peers in working groups and pilot projects to test and scale out solutions. 

Members in the pact will receive custom waste analytics, industry benchmarking, and roadmaps to solutions as they emerge, as well as funding and manpower to conduct pilot projects. 

Businesses who join the pact can expect to see first-of-their-kind data insights, bountiful networking opportunities, and even a return on their investment as most food waste reduction programs have shown to do. 

Now it’s your turn!

Interested in learning more about how the SWEEP certification process can help your local government and materials management company become more sustainable and/or save money? Comment below or reach out at info@sweepstandard.org. To learn more about all the benefits that come with SWEEP Membership, head to membership page.

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