New Solutions Target Food-Waste Problem

Communities across the U. S. are coming up with innovative ways to combat food waste.

garbage can food waste
Communities across the country are looking for new ways to address food waste. (Photo: Joe Fox/Getty Images)
Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

Can’t finish your lunch? If you’re tossing that half-eaten tuna sandwich at a Massachusetts hospital, hotel, or university, it could soon be diverted to a compost pile instead of heading for the landfill if state officials get their way. The proposed ban on commercial food waste would also make Massachusetts the first state in the nation to prohibit food trash from the waste stream.

The news is important.

Americans have a serious food-waste problem. Nearly 40 percent of the food we produce isn’t consumed. It’s a staggering figure that’s hard to get your head around, but picture it this way: Americans squander enough food to fill Pasadena’s famed Rose Bowl to the brim each and every day.

If approved, the Massachusetts ban will take effect in the beginning of 2014.

“This is clearly one of the most ambitious plans of its kind in the country,” Patrick Serfass, executive director of the American Biogas Council told The Boston Globe.

Massachusetts residents and businesses already redirect 100,000 tons of food waste a year away from landfills, with a majority of it going to compost facilities. The new commercial food-waste ban would add another 350,000 tons to the tally. Impressive.

While the new regulations have some businesses fretting over space to store food waste before it’s hauled away, or are concerned over attracting rodents, many already have successful composting systems in place, including Boston University and Boston’s InterContinental Hotel.

On a city-level, places like San Francisco and Seattle have been progressive in addressing food waste. Philadelphia, however, came up with a plan that has some scratching their heads. The city just announced a partnership with InSinkErator, to install 200 disposals in an effort to encourage homeowners to send their wilted lettuce down the pipes.

The Philadelphia Inquirer’Sandy Bauers writes, “Putting food waste into the sewer system means gravity instead of diesel-fueled trucks will get it to its destination,” where it will enter an anaerobic digester and eventually help generate electricity or be turned into pellets used as fertilizer.

Not an especially efficient use of an already burdened city sewer system. Experts say a better goal is to reduce waste to begin with, followed by composting.

“If you’re going to go through the effort to undertake a campaign in the realm of food waste, there are a number of higher goals than simply getting people to put their food waste down the disposal,” food-waste expert Jonathan Bloom tells TakePart.

But, says Bloom, it’s a real sign of hope that cities and states are now paying more attention to reducing food waste and doing the right thing with the food that is squandered. Don’t be surprised to see other states taking on the issue in the next few years.

Lisa Jackson, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, told the Globe she expects states will embrace anaerobic digesters to handle their local food waste stream.

“There’s no question that waste is an opportunity,” she said.

How do you combat food waste in your home?

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