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Can We Get to Zero Food Waste?

By Marjorie DePuy, Senior Director, Supply Chain and Sustainability, FMI and Andy Harig, Vice President of Tax, Trade and Sustainability Policy, FMI 

Last night at dinner, a family friend asked if it was true that around one-third of the food in this country is wasted. It was sobering to say yes. Estimates vary, but approximately 25-40% of food grown, processed and transported in the U.S. will never be consumed. The United States government has set a goal of halving food waste by 2030, spurred on with resources and recognition from NGOs, businesses and industry associations including the Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA), of which FMI is a founding member. The question is, can we really get to a 50% reduction in food waste, or even to the ultimate goal of zero food waste?

Last week, FWRA as well as FMI signaled its support for new legislation aimed at advancing the goal of halving U.S. food loss and waste by 2030 and reducing the climate impacts of food waste.

The Zero Food Waste Act was introduced by Representatives Julia Brownley (D-CA), Ann McLane Kuster, (D-NH), and Chellie Pingree (D-ME), and by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). This legislation would establish a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program for state, local and tribal communities to lead efforts to measure, prevent and build the infrastructure necessary to decrease food waste across America.

A landfill is at the bottom of the food waste hierarchy, but when composted, food waste can be recycled into a soil amendment or used as an energy source. The Cultivating Organic Matter through the Promotion Of Sustainable Techniques (COMPOST) Act would add composting as a practice for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation programs, whether from organic waste or on-farm usage. It also would create new USDA grant and loan guarantee programs for composting infrastructure projects, including both large-scale composting facilities as well as farm, home or community-based projects.

World Wildlife Fund, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and ReFED are leading the advocacy effort in favor of these proposals, with support from the public and private sector. Both pieces of legislation are in line with the policy goals of FWRA, which advocates for policies that support the development of the food waste recycling and donation infrastructure across the nation. Having a cost-effective way for businesses to recycle food waste is essential, and building the infrastructure is the first step.

FWRA will be convening a workshop this fall to discuss additional efforts our industry can take to assist our members in their critical food waste reduction journeys.