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.