First-Ever Federal Plan To Reduce Food Waste

From Modern Farmer:

“At a joint event last week week, USDA head Tom Vilsack and EPA deputy administrator Stan Meiburg announced a simple plan with a multifaceted way of getting there: reduce the country’s food waste by 50 percent by 2030.

“The United States enjoys the most productive and abundant food supply on earth, but too much of this food goes to waste,” said Vilsack in the USDA’s official statement. “An average family of four leaves more than two million calories, worth nearly $1500, uneaten each year.” Somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of food in the US goes to waste, which vastly increases the amount of landfill space we need, the amount of transportation in the form of garbage trucks to take it there (which shoot off an awful lot of greenhouse gases in the process), and once at the landfill, decomposition adds even more methane to the atmosphere.”

The USDA/EPA plan is complex and not really that transparently laid out; the statement notes that there will be initiatives taken through various other organizations, including “charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, the private sector and local, state and tribal governments.” Some of those are already in place, incorporated into other federal programs like providing better storage to farmers to reduce on-farm waste, various consumer education programs, and connecting importers and retailers with charitable organizations so they can donate food that’s near expiration. The statement says there will be “additional initiatives” to come, though exactly what sort isn’t stated, beyond a few programs like a new section of Choose My Plate, an interactive tool to help plan healthy meals.

This is one of those problems that couldn’t be less sexy; nobody really cares about trash, nor wants to hear about it. But it’s a legitimate problem, and altering it can have a huge impact on the environment and public health. Now all that’s left is to see if that goal can actually be achieved.”

This is a notable step forward by the USDA and EPA, though vague and broad the presentation may seem. Given the overlapping and shared nature of federal regulatory space, these agencies’ move to set this critical goal of 50% down by 2030 will require legal and advocacy support on both state and local levels as well. For example,  by July 2016 all food waste in Vermont will be banned from landfills as part of Act 148 the Universal Recycling Law, with the current transition period  being assisted by already-in-place private and public composting efforts. Seattle’s 2014 ordinance prohibiting food waste from residential and commercial garbage streams is another notable move in decreasing the staggering level of food waste, especially in highly populated urban locale.

With excessive amounts of food being produced and startling quantities being wasted (through means of production and consumption), all of this stands to shame in light of the millions who are food insecure in our country (17.4 million in 2014). It will take a combined effort of federal, state, local, and individual action to achieve the goal of %50 down by 2030.

To help with this critical effort, seek out opportunities for composting in your local areas (extension offices, transfer stations, or online, eg. Find-A-Composter), and find fun and creative ways to practice mindfulness in meal planning. When “An average family of four leaves more than two million calories, worth nearly $1500, uneaten each year,” every calorie and dollar counts.

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