The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released two new reports quantifying methane emissions from landfilled food waste and updating recommendations for managing wasted food. In a press release, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said, “These reports provide decision-makers with important data on the climate impacts of food waste through landfill methane emissions and highlight the urgent need to keep food out of landfills.”
The reports’ findings emphasize the importance of reducing the amount of this type of waste and managing its disposal in more environmentally friendly ways. Based on these findings, EPA is releasing an update to its Food Recovery Hierarchy to help decision-makers, such as state and local governments, understand the best options for managing the waste regarding environmental impacts.
The release of the new ranking – the Wasted Food Scale – marks the first update since the 1990s, reflecting more recent technological advances and changes in operational practices. EPA’s research confirms that preventing food from being wasted in the first place, or source reduction, is still the most environmentally beneficial approach. Evidence in these reports suggests that efforts should focus on ensuring less food is wasted to divert it from landfills, which will reduce environmental impacts.
The research announced on Thursday, October 19, represents the first time EPA has quantified methane emissions from landfilling. This work published modeled estimates of annual methane emissions released into the atmosphere from landfilled food waste, giving a cost of landfilling the waste in terms of the impact on climate change.
EPA analyzed to estimate annual methane emissions from landfilled this type of waste from 1990 to 2020 and found that while total emissions from municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills are decreasing, methane emissions from landfilled food waste are increasing. These estimates indicate that diverting edible and non-edible food from landfills effectively reduces methane emissions, a powerful greenhouse gas, from MSW landfills.
“From Field to Bin: The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste Management Pathways,” which examines the environmental impacts of disposing of food waste. This report synthesizes the latest science on the environmental impacts of how food waste is commonly managed in the U.S. This report completes the analysis that began in the 2021 companion report, “From Farm to Kitchen: The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste,” which analyzed the environmental footprint of food waste in the farm to the consumer supply chain.
“Quantifying Methane Emissions from Landfilled Food Waste” represents the first time the EPA has published modeled estimates of annual methane emissions released into the atmosphere from landfilled food waste. More food reaches MSW landfills than any other material, but its contribution to landfill methane emissions has not been previously quantified.
Hear from SCS Engineers experts at the Green California Schools & Higher Education Summit and Expo, October 17, in Pasadena. The summit will explore “California Continuing the March for Decarbonization.”
This year’s education program will conduct extensive outreach and surveying to identify what matters most to participants.
SCS experts are presenting, including:
This session will provide information on the types of food waste that is generated in schools, and the methods that schools can use to reduce the amount of wasted food and to recover and recycle food scraps. The information is based on experience at school districts and community colleges in California.
Be part of the community that leads the way in making California’s schools and higher education sector’s among the leaders driving the State’s decarbonization efforts. Hear from thought leaders and content experts in design and construction as well as experts in maintenance and operations from campuses across the state. Learn about the challenges and solutions as the State drives the transportation sector toward 100% renewables.
Click for more conference details and registration information. We hope to see you there!
SCS Engineers is a sponsor of the 2023 Food and Beverage Environmental Conference taking place March 26-29, 2023, at the Hyatt Regency Incline Village in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
FBEC is the premier and most comprehensive environmental event for the food and beverage industry in the United States. It brings together industry, academia, non-government organizations, and suppliers in a casual atmosphere that allows for the free flow of information and ideas. The conference includes a single program of sessions, information exchange, poster sessions, and socializing and networking events, all of which uncover the latest trends and innovations affecting water reuse, supply chain challenges, air quality and many more.
The 2023 Conference will explore the following topics and more!
Participants and attendees include craft breweries and distilleries, pet food makers, grocery stores, nutritionists, farmers, and food and beverage processors, as well as those involved in transportation, distribution, preparation, supply chain management, EHS, sustainability and wastewater solutions.
Share these valuable resources directly from the SCS Website.
ReFED, the San Francisco-based nonprofit committed to reducing food waste in the U.S., has released the Food Waste Action Guide for the foodservice and restaurant sectors, which state that there is a 16 million ton opportunity to reduce food waste and to recover the equivalent of 1.5 billion meals per year within the two sectors.
The guide follows the 2016 publication, A Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20 Percent. Both publications were developed in partnership with the Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA) along with input from more than 80 expert contributors and a number of restaurants across the country, are designed to help industry leaders develop and implement food waste reduction strategies.
They provide best practices and strategies as well as present a set of proven prevention, recovery and recycling solutions to help the foodservice and restaurant sectors prioritize and accelerate waste reduction activities. Food waste reduction is quickly becoming a key element of financial and reputational value for restaurants and foodservice providers.
By following the simple procedures governing selective routing in the commercial space, it is possible to turn a high disposal garbage collection system into a high diversion recycling system, without incurring additional costs or losing collection revenue. Read more…
Tracie Onstad Bills of SCS Engineers and Richard Gertman of For Sustainability Too explain the steps for commercial-stream routing and management of commercial recyclables with remarkable results in their Resource Recycling article published in June 2016.
The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) Applied Research Foundation released a report concluding that: a significant amount of additional food waste processing capacity will be required to achieve national, state, provincial, and local food waste diversion goals. The report also emphasizes the need for local decision-making in selecting and implementing those food waste diversion programs.
…a significant amount of additional food waste processing capacity will be required to achieve national, state, provincial, and local food waste diversion goals. The report also emphasizes the need for local decision-making in selecting and implementing those food waste diversion programs.
The report goes on to say that interest in recovering food waste from municipal solid waste is growing to meet goals established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture, but many major metropolitan areas lack the infrastructure to manage the ability to meet the established goals. Two examples were cited:
Several states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, condition their food waste diversion requirements on the ability of generators to access adequate capacity within a certain distance.
Speaking as SWANA’s Executive Director and CEO David Biderman stated:
We believe that Americans need to rethink how food is handled before it is considered waste, to divert it into programs to feed people, and to find other productive uses for food as food. Once it becomes waste, however, municipal decision-makers, working with their processing partners, need to determine how to best manage the material.
The SWANA report focuses on the effects of food recovery at the two lowest tiers of the hierarchy – composting and landfilling/incineration. The report concludes that food waste diverted from landfill operations has the potential to be processed at composting facilities. Then, going on to say that anaerobic digestion (AD) and co-digestion at wastewater treatment facilities are also likely destinations for diverted food waste.
Jeremy O’Brien, Director of the Applied Research Foundation, noted:
The food recovery hierarchy does not apply universally; an analysis of greenhouse gas impacts based on local data and conditions is needed to identify the best food scraps management options for a specific community.
The report encourages solid waste managers to perform a life cycle analysis of economic and environmental costs and benefits based on local needs, system capabilities, and data to identify the most effective ways to manage food waste at the local level.
SCS Engineers and SWANA are both long-time advocates for local decision-making in establishing programs to collect and manage municipal solid waste.
by Tracie Onstad Bills, Northern California Director, Sustainable Materials Management at SCS Engineers
For many years source separation was the primary method for recycling. However, technology has changed how recyclables are collected and processed. China, the largest importer of materials for recycling now strictly enforces regulations on importing contaminated materials for recycling into the country. China’s Operation Green Fence puts restrictions on what material China will accept, rejecting materials that don’t meet higher standards of cleanliness; that means rejected materials get buried in a landfill instead of being recycled.
Regardless of the type of recycling program, the biggest challenge here at home is now minimizing contaminated recycling material. Communities are struggling to meet diversion goals and provide materials to local recyclers that are free of common contaminants such as liquids left in containers or motor oil. My SCS team has assisted communities in the last few years to address contamination issues and I’d like to share what works best to kick start addressing the issue at home.
Recycling Assessments: Conduct a visual and physical characterization study to identify contamination levels using one of these two methods for the evaluation:
Recycling Technical Assistance: Meet with local businesses and perform a walk-through of their facility to collect baseline waste assessment and material collection infrastructure information. This information can then be used to provide customized recycling and composting recommendations, and implementation support such as employee training sessions, providing signage and collateral, referrals, and multi-lingual outreach services.
Review and Analysis of Community Recycling Programs: Review and analyze your recycling program. An environmental engineer can provide recommendations and assessments on how a recycling program can be enhanced to reduce the quantity of contaminated materials. Services typically include everything from examining outreach materials to the flow of the recycling from generation to transport to processing.
Planning and Implementation of Behavior Change Programs: There is value in providing comprehensive programs and explicit outreach materials for increasing the probability of cleaner recycling. Behavior change programs focus on planning and implementing programs that identify key triggers to encourage action in the community. These programs help communicate the importance and value of specific activities to the community and cross any age and cultural barriers.
Contamination is a global problem and is challenging, but there are steps to minimize the problem in your community.
About Tracie Onstad Bills
Tracie Onstad Bills has been in the Environmental and Resource Material Management Field for over 20 years. Her expertise revolves around commercial recycling technical assistance, environmental purchasing, large venue and event zero waste programs, research and sustainability planning, garbage hauler franchise compliance and review, construction and demolition program / ordinance analysis and writing, climate inventory compilation, research and feasibility studies to help clients with comprehensive waste prevention and zero waste programs. Ms. Bills has a BA in Environmental Science from San Jose State University, is a CRRA Board member and belongs to the SWANA Gold Rush Chapter, National Recycling Coalition and the Northern California Recycling Association. Contact Tracie here.
Learn more on the SCS service pages and read SCS project case studies from across the nation to help fine tune your program:
SCS Engineers will evaluate the collection, hauling, and processing of organic material and food waste for Placer County in compliance with California’s recently adopted mandatory organics recycling law. According to the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, the state disposes of approximately 30 million tons of waste in landfills each year, of which more than 30 percent could be used for compost or mulch.