Food Waste Bans: Are You Prepared?

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Laws that regulate food waste disposal seem to be popping up with more frequency. From California to Connecticut and several places in between, a number of states and cities have implemented mandates on how restaurants can and can’t dispose leftover or wasted food.

So what’s behind this effort to combat food waste? There are a few motivators: 

  1. Environmental concerns. State and local governments are looking for ways to lessen their environmental impact. The Department of Agriculture estimates 30 to 40 percent of food produced in the United States ends up in landfills, where it emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Food waste is the single largest component of municipal solid waste. We devote 50 to 80 million acres to grow food that goes straight to the garbage bin — an area nearly three-quarters the size of California. 
  2. Feeding the hungry. In addition to the environmental motivations behind governmental regulation, millions of Americans go to bed hungry every night. At the same time, more than a third of our food is thrown away.  

As a result, governments at all levels are honing in on food waste. Last year, the Obama administration announced a goal to reduce food waste 50 percent by 2030. In Congress, Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) introduced legislation to reduce food waste. 

More states and cities are regulating restaurant food waste by banning operators from diverting organics to landfill or requiring them to collect and separate food waste and haul it to composting or digestion facilities. In addition to California and Connecticut, those jurisdictions include Massachusetts; Rhode Island; Vermont; New York City; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; and Austin, Texas.

Massachusetts in 2014 instituted a ban on disposing commercial organic waste in landfills. The law applies to businesses that dispose of at least one ton of the waste a week. To comply with the law, foodservice operators can create less food waste, increase donations of leftover food, or send their waste to composting or anaerobic digestion facilities.  

In California, beginning April 1st, businesses will be required to divert organic waste from landfills to recycling or composting facilities. Currently, the regulation affects only those generating 8 cubic yards of organic waste a week. Next year, the threshold will be lowered to 4 cubic yards. This presumably will bring more restaurants under the mandate’s coverage. 

In New York City, large foodservice establishments must arrange for separate collection and transportation of organic waste for composting or anaerobic digestion to a facility that processes organic waste or engage in on-site composting or digestion. The new rule affects large foodservice establishments such as stadiums, arenas, conference centers, and large hotels.

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5 Ways to Reduce Food Waste

What does all this mean for your business? If you operate in a jurisdiction with food waste regulations, you will have to comply with the law. Even if you aren’t in one of those areas, you should consider getting ahead of regulation. Here are some tips to start reducing waste:

1. Create a green team. Create a green team to support your efforts, and brainstorm ideas that reduce waste. The team can get your staff on board and help create goals around waste reduction. 

2. Begin tracking your food inventory and waste. You can do this the old-fashioned way with pen and paper or with technology designed for food-waste tracking. Conduct waste audits to determine what you throw away and what customers send back to the kitchen. That will help you determine how to adjust your ordering practices.

3. Start donating more leftover food. Donating your leftover food is a great way to reduce the amount of organic material you send to the landfill. The federal Good Samaritan Act protects you from liability when you donate food in good faith, and you can receive valuable federal tax benefits when you donate food inventory to charitable organizations, as well. 

4. Look into composting. Talk with your hauler to see if it picks up food waste for compost, or find a new hauler.  

5. Train your staff. Train your staff to separate your waste correctly, and get the team excited about reducing waste.

Whether you’re looking to get ahead of regulation or comply with one on the books, focusing on waste reduction will help your business, your environment, and your community for years to come.