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New York has joined California, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts in requiring the biggest sources of food waste to donate excess food or recycle food waste. The hope is to keep food, and its related methane emissions, out of landfills. The new law took affect on January 1, 2021.
The law, called the Food Donation and Food Scraps Recycling Law, first passed in 2019. As of the start of this year, businesses and institutions with an average of two tons of food waste per week now must donate edible foods and recycle any food scraps, given that the business or institution is located within 25 miles of a facility that can process the scraps.
While the law will help reduce food waste and related emissions, there are some caveats. This law does not apply to New York City, which already has similar Commercial Organics Requirements in place. These laws took affect in 2020, but the city has extended the warning period until July 2022 due to the pandemic. Hospitals, nursing homes, adult care facilities, K-12 schools and farms are also excluded from the Food Donation and Food Scraps Recycling Law.
The state estimates that about 7.8 billion pounds of food go to waste here each year, or about the weight of over 17,000 Statues of Liberty. The new law is meant to reduce that amount while also providing jobs and creating compost for healthier local soils. Job opportunities at composting facilities average about twice as much as job opportunities at landfills and four times as much as at incinerators. Food donations will also help the over 2.2 million people in New York who face food insecurity.
This law and similar food waste prevention strategies that follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Hierarchy can reap multiple sustainability, social and economic benefits. The hierarchy focuses primarily on reducing the sources of food waste, followed by donating excess food to those in need. The middle of the hierarchy is to feed scraps to animals, thereby reducing costs to feed livestock. Then, the focus should shift to using food waste in industrial settings, such as for fuel conversion or recovering energy. With any leftover food waste, composting is the goal. The very last resort and least-preferred option is to send waste to landfills or incinerators.
The new law in New York is promising, especially if it produces results similar to those in other states with food waste reduction regulations. From 2014 to 2017, Vermont’s food donations have tripled. Additional food waste prevention and management laws are in progress around the country.