Legislative interventions for food waste on the menu in the United States

A story in USA Today details how state governments in the United States are working to keep food out of landfills and onto consumers’ plates.

The article outlines three broad ways that legislation has been enacted in certain regions of the States to reduce the amount of organic waste that ends up in a landfill:

  1. Tax breaks: Tax breaks are a way to incentivize those who produce waste to donate more product that may have originally been shipped to landfill without a second thought. By providing a tax incentive to donors, the government hopes to redirect edible food to people. Additionally, tax incentives may cause business owners to more carefully keep track of and monitor the amount of food being ordered and wasted, to not over order and therefore waste in the future.
  2. Cosmetic standards/Arbitrary Best Before dates: Much food waste is caused cosmetic blemishes to food, which have no affect on the tastiness or nutritional value of said food product. Loosening legislative cosmetic standards to food could go a long way to reduce unnecessary waste.
  3. Bans: Organic bans are a legislative measure which prohibit disposing of organic material, such as food waste, into landfills. They are already in place in small geographies such as Massachusetts. Bans can be useful in areas that have both a high density in population and a low amount of landfill space. They are most effective when they can be monitored by local authorities and enforced closely, with perhaps the threat of fines for not complying with the ban. Otherwise, they  may not be effective as organic waste producers will find other places to ship their waste.

You can read more about further legislative and corporate efforts to reduce food waste here.

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Copenhagen introduces mandatory separation of household food waste

Copenhagen has introduced a new, mandatory system of household food waste separation. By providing all households, regardless of size or location, with a bucket and biodegradable bags, the city hopes to reduces the amount of food that ends up in landfills. Previously, participation in food waste separation was voluntary and residences were not provided with buckets or bags.

The separated food waste will be collected by city workers and processed at a biogas plant. The byproduct will then be used as fertilizer on farmer’s fields. City officials are confident that the new plan will be readily accepted among Copenhagen residences, as Danish people are already very environmentally aware. Many people separate food waste already without any forceful regulations.

Morten Kabell, the city’s deputy mayor for technical and environmental issues, told Danish news site CPH Post that “Copenhageners are very good at taking responsibility for the environment and climate. We see that with all the people riding their bicycles to work in the wind and rain. So I think we can get a lot of Copenhageners to sort more of their waste if we make it simple and manageable for them.”

You can read more on the new policy here.

Taiwan Embraces Alternative Garbage Collection Schemes

More from 99% Invisible: “Separation Anxiety” explores how the country of Taiwan has employed alternative recycling and garbage collection schemes that put the onus for reducing waste back on the consumer at the household level. Using a mix of strategies, the country has tremendously reduced the amount of garbage it produces compared to 20 years ago. Strategies include “polluter pay”: charging householders for state-sanctioned, official trash bags (the bigger the size of the bag, the more expensive it is), offering free organic and recycling pick-up, and fining those who do not sort their recycling properly.

Garbage trucks come around to neighborhoods in Taipei and other large cities multiple times a week, and multiple times a day (mostly in the evenings). It is the responsibility of the citizens to be ready when the truck arrives (which heralds its coming with a classical song such as Fur Elise). The garbage truck is followed by a recycling truck with separate containers for plastics, glass, paper, raw and cooked food waste, and more.

The inclusion of everyday citizens in daily flows of garbage removes the invisibility of waste that seems to characterize most “modern” cities. Would reclaiming waste from the margins of society and making it more visible change our current, wasteful practices?

“Best Before” Debate Continues

A 2013 study by Emily Broad Leib has received recent media coverage in the US on the podcast 99% Invisible.  Best before dates are confusing, contribute a great deal to food waste, and tend to be regulated sector-by-sector, rather than in a cohesive, comprehensive, federal way.

The episode gives a brief history of best before dates in the United States, and urges listeners to use more “common sense” when deciding when to throw out food such as milk or other refrigerated  products. It attempts to demystify a common fear of consumers: hearing a news story of a listeria outbreak, or a friend who contracted salmonella, and then looking to the date as the definitive “throw out” date.

The episode builds off growing interest in Best Before Dates in the US following a survey by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, the National Consumer League and Johns Hopkins University Center for Livable Future. The survey reported that over 1/3 of adults regularly throw out food due to mistaken interpretations of what the Best Before Date means. Additionally, many respondents believed that Best Before Dates were federally mandated, even though a majority of date labeling is at the producer/distributor’s discretion.

Parts of Europe, especially in the UK, have made strides in banning all dates except for expiry dates in hopes that it will lead to less food waste at both the retailer and consumer levels. With the US EPA recently pledging to reduce food waste in half by 2030, a reform on inconsistent date labeling may be a good place to start.

For a list of media coverage relating to Leib’s study in particular, and food waste in general, check out Harvard Law School’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation here.

You can listen to the podcast here:

 

 

U.S. House Committee on Agriculture begins review on food waste issues

Delegates from across America (including award-winning chefs) recently took part in a food waste review conducted by the House Agricultural Committee, an organization that oversees agricultural policy in the United States. The hearing was centered on current issues relating to food waste and initiated an imperative discussion on future policies and solutions. Participants heard from a variety of actors and industry leaders, who spoke about the need to reduce food waste along the commodity chain.

The review has spanned two days so far and has been spearheaded by many prominent industry actors such as Diana Aviv, CEO of Feeding America, who aims to raise consciousness of the paradox of excess food waste existing alongside poverty and hunger in the U.S. In her statement at the hearing, Aviv emphasized the importance of food rescue and food waste redirection to charity organizations that serve those in need. According to Aviv, Feeding America and its charity networks provided 3.7 billion meals in 2015 with food that would have otherwise been destined for the trash.

This is a very positive step forward for food waste reduction in America and I hope to see a similar event in Canada in the near future, possibly with participation from organizations such as Second Harvest.

You can read further on the food waste review and its progress here.

(Participants in the May 25th Food Waste Review. Image from http://agriculture.house.gov)

“Stop Sprechi Alimentari”: Italy to pass food waste law

The Italian parliament will be considering a law to make it easier for grocery stores to donate food, rather than putting it in the trash. Read more here.

The bill will focus on incentives for retailers, unlike the similar law passed in France that uses heavy fines to ensure compliance.

The Italian law will be read in parliament next Monday (March 21).

 

Update: France Bans Supermarket Waste

In July, we wrote about French Councillor Arash Derambarsh’s efforts to lead the way in food waste reduction for the EU. Last week his efforts paid off, at least for the country of France. French grocery stores that are 400 square meters or larger are now required by law to donate all of their excess food to either food banks or charities, or run the risk of being considerably fined. Furthermore, supermarkets are now banned from tampering with food they put in bins: previously either bleached, locked up, or otherwise rendered inedible. Finally, the law has relaxed restrictions on donations that can come directly from factories, eliminating much of the red tape in the process.

Councillor Derambarsh hopes French President Hollande is willing to take the rest of the EU to task on the issue of food waste, using France as an example.

You can read more about this story here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/04/french-law-forbids-food-waste-by-supermarkets