Each year, approximately 40% of food produced in the United States is left uneaten, equating to an annual loss of $218 billion, while approximately 2.2 million New Yorkers are food insecure. Across New York State, restaurants alone are estimated to waste around 25.4 billion pounds of food waste, and grocery stores generate around 21 billion pounds. Food waste is also detrimental to the environment, emitting methane and other greenhouse gases when sent to landfills, making up a total of 6-8% of human-caused emissions worldwide. Not only is the food itself wasted when thrown out, but so are the energy and water used to grow and transport it around the world.
To combat food waste, the Department of Environmental Conservation introduced the NYS Food Donation and Food Scraps Recycling Law, which will take effect on Jan 1, 2022. This law will impact all entities that produce around 2 tons of food waste or food scraps per week, including restaurants, grocers, hotels, and colleges. Exemptions will include cities such as NYC that have their own local laws to divert food scraps from disposal, hospitals, nursing homes, adult care facilities, K-12 schools, and farms. Entities facing hardship that generate large amounts of food scraps may also petition the Department for a one-year waiver.
The law requires that establishments donate all edible leftover food, and recycle any remaining food scraps if living within 25 miles of an organic recycler, such as a composting facility or anaerobic digester. Under the law, entities required to donate surplus food or food scraps must also train their workers in food waste management, and submit an annual report to the DEC. Landfills and transfer facilities also have regulations in place to ensure food scraps are properly recycled rather than thrown out.
Besides donation, some suggestions from the state to reduce food waste include offering various portion sizes in restaurants, avoiding batch preparations if possible, and tracking food best-by dates to avoid food expiring. Grocery stores should also avoid overstocking products, and selling imperfect produce at a discounted price.
This new law will play an important role in cutting down costs for businesses, improving production efficiency, and meeting demand rather than producing a surplus of food. Advertising steps taken to improve sustainability is likely to attract customers who value climate mitigation actions from businesses. Further, incentivizing food waste reduction can play a major role in reducing emissions derived from food waste.
The implementation of the Food Donation and Food Scraps Recycling Law will not only help revolutionize food waste from the largest producers in one of the biggest economies in the world, it will additionally help pave the path for increasingly expansive food waste diversion in the future.