US EPA releases report on environmental impacts of US food waste

EPA infographic on environmental impacts of US food waste
Image from US EPA Office of Research and Development.

On November 30, 2021, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new report entitled “From Farm to Kitchen: The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste (Part 1).”

This report reveals the climate and environmental impacts of producing, processing, distributing, and retailing food that is ultimately wasted and projects the environmental benefits of meeting the US goal to prevent 50 percent of food waste by 2030. The report was prepared to inform domestic policymakers, researchers, and the public, and focuses primarily on five inputs to the US cradle-to-consumer food supply chain — agricultural land use, water use, application of pesticides and fertilizers, and energy use — plus one environmental impact — greenhouse gas emissions.

This report provides estimates of the environmental footprint of current levels of food loss and waste to assist stakeholders in clearly communicating the significance; decision-making among competing environmental priorities; and designing tailored reduction strategies that maximize environmental benefits. The report also identifies key knowledge gaps where new research could improve our understanding of US food loss and waste and help shape successful strategies to reduce its environmental impact.

The new report reveals that each year, the resources attributed to US food loss and waste are equivalent to:

  • 140 million acres agricultural land – an area the size of California and New York combined;
  • 5.9 trillion gallons blue water – equal to the annual water use of 50 million American homes;
  • 778 million pounds pesticides;
  • 14 billion pounds fertilizer – enough to grow all the plant-based foods produced each year in the United States for domestic consumption;
  • 664 billion kWh energy – enough to power more than 50 million US homes for a year; and
  • 170 million MTCO2e greenhouse gas emissions (excluding landfill emissions) – equal to the annual CO2 emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants

In short, significant resources go into growing, processing, packaging, storing, and distributing food. Thus, the most important action we can take to reduce the environmental impacts of uneaten food is to prevent that food from becoming waste in the first place.

A companion report, “The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste: Part 2,” will examine and compare the environmental impacts of a range of management pathways for food waste, such as landfilling, composting, and anaerobic digestion. EPA plans to complete and release this second report in Spring 2022. Together, these two reports will encompass the net environmental footprint of US food loss and waste.

Read the full report at https://www.epa.gov/system/files/documents/2021-11/from-farm-to-kitchen-the-environmental-impacts-of-u.s.-food-waste_508-tagged.pdf.  (PDF document, 113 pages)

For questions, contact Shannon Kenny, Senior Advisor, Food Loss and Food Waste, US EPA Office of Research and Development.

ISTC Technical Assistance Program launches new webpages

TAP homepage

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) has a new web presence. You may now find information on TAP at https://go.illinois.edu/techassist.

TAP makes companies and communities more competitive and resilient with sustainable business practices, technologies, and solutions. TAP works at the intersection of industry, science, and government to help organizations achieve profitable, sustainable results.

The new website makes it easier to find information on TAP programs, services, and projects. Visitors can sign up for free site visits or learn about fee-for-service opportunities to engage our sustainability experts. Any Illinois organization, business, manufacturing facility, institute of higher learning, government entity, public utility, or institution may request one free site visit (per location) at no cost to the facility.

General inquiries may be addressed to istc-info@illinois.edu. You may also reach out to specific TAP team members for assistance in their areas of expertise.

Focus on Food Waste: Federal Bill Could Expand Food Donation

In August of 2016, the ISTC blog featured information on an Illinois law geared toward increasing the donation of unused food from schools and other public agencies. That legislation addressed widespread confusion about protection from liability under the federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (aka the Emerson Act), which went into effect in 1996. Now federal legislation has been introduced to amend the Emerson Act in ways that will also hopefully encourage food donation.

 

In February US Representatives Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH), Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), and James P. McGovern (D-MA) introduced HR 952, The Food Donation Act of 2017. The goals of this proposed legislation are to clarify and expand liability protections offered under the Emerson Act to better align with the current food recovery landscape. As outlined on Representative Fudge’s web site, HR 952 would:

  • Designate the USDA as the executive agency in charge of implementing, interpreting, and promoting awareness of the Emerson Act. Congress had never assigned the Emerson Act to a particular federal agency for enforcement.
  • Protect donations made directly from donors to needy individuals. This provision is limited to food service establishments and retail stores, and these entities must comply with food service requirements like training and inspections. This particular update of the Emerson Act is important to ensure the timely use of perishable items. Currently the Emerson Act limits protections to food provided to social service agencies (e.g. food banks or soup kitchens).
  • Amend the Emerson Act to state that donors retain liability protection if the recipient pays a Good Samaritan Reduce Price for food, or the cost of simply handling, administering, and distributing food. This provision would, for example, extend liability protections to non-profit grocery stores that sell surplus food at reduced prices (e.g. Daily Table in Dorchester, MA)
  • Amend the Emerson Act to cover foods that comply or are reconditioned to comply with safety ­related federal, state, and local labeling standards. In this way, donations of food that was mislabeled in a way unrelated to safety would be protected, to help keep such items out of the waste stream.
  • Allow for donation for safe “past-dated” food. In this way items that are beyond a listed “Sell By” date, but which are still perfectly safe to eat, could be covered under liability protections. As noted on the ISTC blog earlier this week, industry is working to change the way it labels food to minimize consumer confusion, and elimination of “sell by” dates that really don’t reflect food safety are part of the proposed changes. But until labeling changes have been widely adopted, this provision could help reduce unnecessary food waste. The text of HR 952 directs that “Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Agriculture shall, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, issue regulations with respect to the safety and safety-related labeling standards of apparently wholesome food and an apparently fit grocery product under section 22 of the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 (42 U.S.C. 1791).”

If passed this legislation could provide another important step toward the national goal to reduce food waste by half by the year 2030, in alignment with Target 12.3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

 

For further information, see the press release on HR 952 on Representative Fudge’s web site, updates on the bill (including its text) on Congress.gov, and the Food Donation Act of 2017 fact sheet.

 

Image of the Food Donation Act of 2017 fact sheet

 

Focus on Food Waste: Recent and Upcoming Food Waste Events

Interested in ways to fight food waste in your organization or community? Be sure to check out these upcoming events, as well as archived resources from recent events.

Upcoming Events

US EPA Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) Web Academy Webinar: New Tool Kit: Reforming Laws and Policies to Enhance Food Recovery at the State and Local Level

Thursday, Oct 20, 2016 12:00 PM – 1:30 PM CDT; Register at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7992718732755591171

 

In September 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the first ever domestic goal to reduce food loss and waste by half by the year 2030 and are seeking to work with public and private partners to take action and make this happen over the next 14 years. The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) is one of EPA’s partners and is at the forefront of identifying key areas where current laws create barriers to reducing this food waste or where policies can incentivize more food recovery, and is actively working on the federal and state level to help reform those laws. One way to assist with the proliferation of better food recovery laws and policies is by providing information to states and local governments regarding methods of increasing food recovery. In order to make such information more widely available, FLPC created a toolkit for state and local policymakers interested in reducing food waste. This toolkit brings together lessons from their research and policy work in date labeling, tax incentives, liability protections, organic waste bans, leftovers for livestock as well as other food waste policies, to provide state and local policy makers with a comprehensive menu of policy options to reduce food waste.

 

Join this webinar to learn what is included in this toolkit, and how you can use it in your state or local food waste policy planning. Presenters will explain the content and how best to use the toolkit, with a focus on a few of the sections, and will answer questions from webinar participants about these and other examples.

 

Controlling Food Waste in School Food-Service

Thursday, Oct 20, 2016, 10:30 AM to 1:30 PM CDT, Hillsdale, IL;  Space is limited–RSVP to carl@pbjreps.com or pj@pbjreps.com.

 

ISTC’s Joy Scrogum will be among the presenters, talking about the Green Lunchroom Challenge Program. Other presenters will covers topics such as speed scratch cooking, presenting freshness, preserving freshness, holding freshness, storing freshness and more. Learn about food waste reduction while supporting a great cause! The event is free with a suggested $10 donation at the door. Proceeds will benefit the Greater Chicago Food Depository; PBJ Commercial Agents will be matching donations. See http://www.greenlunchroom.org/documents/Controlling-Waste-PBJ.pdf for more information.

 

Composting Policy Forum

Monday, Oct 24, 1:00 PM -3:00 PM CDT,  Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Rd, Glencoe, IL 60022; Register at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdO69XnWKyU-NCLmXTzr8n6SyAteHCkVoAdSaQOMulOmgvprA/viewform.

 

Seven Generations Ahead, the Illinois Environmental Council, the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County and the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition invite you to attend the third in a series of four free forums addressing composting policy in Illinois. Get updates on food scrap composting initiatives in Northern Cook County. Learn about Illinois landfill disposal bans and their impact. Discuss what would be needed for a successful organics disposal ban in Illinois. View the agenda online.

 

Recent Events

US EPA SMM Web Academy Webinar: Food: Too Good to Waste – Community Results and Lessons Learned

Sept. 22, 2016; View archived presentation materials online.

 

Currently, over 30 percent of the food currently grown and processed in the U.S. goes uneaten. When wholesome, edible food ends up in a landfill, all those embedded resources (along with the money spent on them) also get wasted. This impacts the environment, our community and the bottom line. The Food: Too Good to Waste toolkit was designed and developed for local governments and other community partners to help prevent wasted food in households. This community food waste prevention toolkit has been tested throughout the US and helps households save money while reducing wasted food by up to 50%. During this webinar we will present results from an evaluation report on several campaign implementations and hear from three of those communities who successfully implemented this toolkit.

 

Michigan DEQ Sustainability Series Webinar: Engaging in Food Recovery

Sept. 22, 2016; View archived slides and recording online (Note: Scroll to the bottom of the page).

 

Food scraps are the “final frontier” for organics recovery. Food is the most water, labor and nutrient intensive of the wastes we produce. And not all food that is wasted is unfit for a plate. Food recovery should come first. After that, diversion from landfills, then identifying the best options to recover what value we can from what we worked so hard to grow. Learn how your business or organization can avoid wasting this valuable resource. This webinar was geared towards any business or institution that generates food waste in a kitchen or cafeteria or through food processing, as well as anyone interested in learning more about food waste recovery. Presented by Sally L. Brown, PhD, a Research Associate Professor at the University of Washington. She is a Fellow in the Soil Science Society of America, and was a member of the National Academy of Science Committee on Soils. She writes a monthly column for Biocycle magazine and a blog for the Huffington Post.

 

Green Lunchroom Challenge to Assist IL Schools with Food Waste Prevention, Reduction

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, food production represents 10 percent of the total US energy budget, uses 50 percent of US land, and accounts for 80 percent of the freshwater we consume–yet, 40 percent of food in the US goes uneaten. And in 2013, 49.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 33.3 million adults and 15.8 million children. Food waste is clearly both a tremendous problem and opportunity for improving the sustainability of our society. Reducing food waste in schools not only helps to ensure those precious expended resources are providing nutrition as intended, but also provides the opportunity to set important examples of conservation and systems thinking among our impressionable youth, which will hopefully stay with them as they become our next generation of leaders.

 

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) is therefore pleased to announce an exciting new project that addresses this important societal and environmental challenge. In order to identify sources of food waste in K-12 schools and facilitate its prevention and reduction, ISTC, in collaboration with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), UI Extension, and Beyond Green Partners, Inc., is launching the Green Lunchroom Challenge this fall. Funded by US EPA Region 5, the program is open for participation from K-12 schools throughout the state. Marketing of the program will however, be targeted toward underserved regions of southern Illinois, including Pulaski, Alexander, Marion, White, and Fayette counties. According to data from the ISBE, over 70 percent of K-12 students in those counties are eligible for assistance through the National School Lunch Program. By preventing and reducing food waste in these areas particularly, and throughout the state, it is hoped the Challenge will not only achieve environmental benefits, but also stretch federal and state assistance and resources through increased efficiency.

 

school kids in cafeteria
Photo: USDA Blog

 

Similar to the successful Illinois Green Office Challenge, the Green Lunchroom Challenge is a voluntary, “friendly competition,” in which participating schools will choose among a variety of suggested activities to improve the sustainability of their food service. These activities will range in complexity and commitment to allow participants to best suit their situation, budget, and available community resources. Examples might include, but not be limited to, composting of food scraps, use of creative entree names and careful relative placement of food choices to reduce waste of fruit and vegetables, donation of unused food to local food banks or shelters, etc. In addition to operationally related activities, schools may also choose to integrate food waste prevention and reduction into curricula, helping students learn about food security and hunger, composting, the circular economy, and stewardship. Resources and guidance will be available on the project web site and from ISTC technical assistance staff for each recommended activity, and participants will earn points for every activity they complete. Relative progress will be displayed on an online leaderboard. On Earth Day 2016, the participating public K-12 school with the most points will be declared the winner for the year and will receive public recognition and a prize (to be determined) to foster continuous improvement.

 

A kickoff workshop will be held in September 2015 (date and location to be announced) to introduce the Challenge; identify (in part through feedback from school and district representatives in attendance) key sources of food waste in schools, as well as barriers to its prevention; to raise awareness among potential participants of existing relevant toolkits and programs; and to provide comprehensive training on analysis and modification of menus, food procurement and inventory, lunchroom procedures, etc. Note that a school does not need to participate in the workshop to participate in the Challenge, and schools may register throughout the Challenge period (Sept. 1, 2015- April 1, 2016). While the competition is only open to K-12 schools in Illinois, ISTC hopes that other states and organizations beyond schools will be able to use resources developed for the Challenge to guide food waste reduction and prevention in their operations and regions.

 

Interested parties may contact Joy Scrogum with questions or to request addition to the mailing list for more information on the workshop and activities as it becomes available. The project web site will be available soon, and potential participants will be able to sign up to receive further information there as well. (The URL for the program web site will be posted in the comments of this post as soon as it is live.)

 

cafeteria tray
Photo by Tim Lauer, principal of Meriwether Lewis Elementary School in Portland, Oregon