The fight against food waste offers us a valuable opportunity to address issues related to climate, environment, economy and social justice. Reducing the amount of food that is wasted, redirecting excess food, and recycling leftover food all help reduce resource impacts and money spent on food that is not consumed. All of us – residents, business owners, farmers and agricultural workers – stand to gain from a less wasteful food system.
The Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act (IIJA), signed into law in November 2021, includes $350 million in investments over 5 years to transform municipal solid waste and recycling, including reducing food waste. Funding includes:
- $15 million per year for five years to support municipal recycling education, including food waste recycling education.
- $55 million per year for five years to support improvements to local waste management systems, including local organics management.
According to the EPA Fact Sheet, the investments:
- Support the implementation of the EPA National Recycling Strategy
- Provide grants to improve local materials management, such as organics management
- Help local waste management authorities make improvements to their waste management systems
- Help state, local and tribal governments improve education and awareness on how to recycle properly, as well as provide a model recycling program toolkit
- Help implement EPA’s comprehensive procurement guidelines for federal purchases and
- Helping schools with recycling programs
Tackling food waste and recycling leftover food is key to improving municipal solid waste management. Investments in the Infrastructure Act focused on reducing food waste can help achieve several benefits, including reduced climate emissions, healthier soils and job creation.
Key opportunities to prioritize food waste reduction in the IIJA include:
- Ensure educational materials for residents about municipal recycling programs include information on how to prevent food from being wasted. This includes messages on proper food storage, deciphering date labels, meal planning, and recipe development.
- Invest in tools to measure the amount of food waste generated, including how much could have been eaten or given away, to ensure we don’t overload composting and other food waste recycling infrastructure. By considering food waste prevention and excess food diversion strategies, we can ensure that less food waste is sent to food waste recycling facilities, putting less strain on local infrastructure.
- Support small- and medium-scale community composting projects run by local organizations – they build neighborhood resilience, create jobs, restore depleted soils, and provide composting options for residents who may not have access to another food waste recycling program.
- Support investments in large-scale food waste recycling infrastructure capable of handling substantial amounts of organic material, better equip cities to deploy city-wide food waste collection programs and generate compost products that can be used to improve soil health.
- Encourage approaches that take an intersectional approach to food waste, simultaneously addressing social, economic, racial, health and environmental/climate impacts. As stated in the IIJA’s wording, “In developing the application requirements for this funding pot, the EPA Administrator may ask applicants to provide a description of how the funds will support communities. disadvantaged, among others. An intersectional approach can be directly encouraged through funding mechanisms, such as:
- Fund a range of solutions and community partners, recognizing that local knowledge about the solutions needed will best meet the unique needs of communities.
- Focus resources on specific geographies and communities that experience the greatest injustices. For example, in communities that have waste incinerators nearby.
- Prioritize goals and impacts beyond GHG reductions, such as improving food security, and offer assistance in measuring these economic, social and environmental benefits.
Including support for local governments to tackle food waste in the IIJA means more people will be empowered to better maximize their food in their homes and have access to recycling food waste locally, producing healthier floors in our yards, our parks and farms. The cities we work with through the NRDC Food Matters initiative have long been leading local food waste reduction efforts, and the support the IIJA could provide to them and other local governments who want to following their lead will be invaluable in advancing their efforts. Sustained, substantial funding like IIJA funding is essential to equip cities to achieve their long-term climate goals, as well as a host of other environmental, economic and social benefits.