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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Food Waste Recovery: build it and they will come?? ...


In August 2012, the National Resources Defense Council released an Issue Paper, Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40% of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill, researched and written by Dana Gunders. The paper served as a wake-up call to reassess the nation's food waste practices from the following standpoints: redirection of edible food to a hungry population, purchasing practices causing waste and food waste destinations.

According to the EPA Reducing Wasted Food Basics page:
More than 96 percent of the food we throw away ends up in landfills. In 2011, we landfilled more than 36 million tons of food waste. 
Beyond the methane gas produced by food in landfills (20%+ more potent than carbon generated from car emissions and other sources), a high percentage of the 36 million tons of food waste is nutritious, edible food. Note the 36 million tons is food waste generated in commercial operations (food production, grocery stores, healthcare and the hospitality | entertainment industry including dining establishments) and personal consumer | residential food purchases.

Until recently the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Food Recovery Hierarchy was the standard for preferred food waste destination options.

As organizations like the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) address how to redirect food waste from landfills to productive uses, the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy is reviewed for local application. In 2014, the ILSR published an updated Hierarchy for Reducing & Recycling Food Scraps and Other Organic Discards:

The ILSR hierarchy includes the following updates to the EPA version:
  1. Title is expanded as follows: reducing replaces recovery and recycling & scraps are added along with other organic discards.
  2. EPA second tier Feed Hungry People renamed Edible Food Rescue.
  3. EPA third tier Feed Animals is eliminated.
  4. ILSR third tier is Residential Backyard Composting.
  5. EPA fourth tier Industrial Uses is moved to one level above bottom tier Landfill & Incineration and renamed Mechanical Biological Mixed Waste Treatment; anaerobic digestion is included in ILSR fifth tier. 
  6. ILSR expanded Composting to a higher level into two categories: Small-scale Decentralized Composting and Centralized Composting or Anaerobic Digestion.
  7. Bottom tier Landfill & Incineration remained consistent.
Brenda presenting at the
F&B Pkging Mtg
In her presentation at the Fourth Annual Food & Beverage Sustainable Packaging Meeting hosted by Elemental Impact at Global Green's Washington D.C. offices, ILSR Co-Director Brenda Platt included the updated hierarchy in her presentation. Additionally, Brenda announced the publication of two important industry resources: 
Brenda emphasized the important role grass roots composting systems play in food waste recovery. Working with the Washington D.C. Department of Parks & Recreation, the ILSR and ECO City Farms offer the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders training program, a community composter train-the-trainer program with a community service component. 

Over 1,000 New York City citizens completed the Master Composting Program. According to Brendathese Master Composters serve as community activists who encourage fellow residents to embark on neighborhood composting solutions for food waste and rebuilding the soilGrass roots efforts, grounded in neighborhood activism, create the culture where public policy, supported by community leaders and private enterprise, may segue to macro solutions for food waste.

The ZWA Blog article, Sustainable F&G Packaging: moving from an emerging to a maturing industry, is an overview of the meeting with a recap of the powerful presentations.

Bringing the focus local is critical to food waste recovery and food security for the nation's under-served populations. With capacity challenges for commercial food waste composting destinations, community garden and other local options may fill the gap while government officials and private enterprise wrestle with regulations, permits and at-times public resistance to state-permitted regional composting or anaerobic digestion facilities.

The ILSR updated food recovery hierarchy aligns with the necessary local participation to reduce the 40% of the food produced wasted and 96% of food waste destined for landfill.

Is a grass roots food waste revolution underway? What is the role of social enterprise in creating viable solutions for the entire population, including those currently under-served? 

Green Streets - a grass roots recycling social enterprise grounded in San Francisco - recently visited Atlanta for Citizen Film's Green Streets documentary screenings, community discussions and meetings. The ZWA Blog article, Green Streets, grass roots social enterprise, is a recap of the powerful Atlanta visit.

Green Streets empowers by creating jobs, cleaning-up housing projects and bringing dignity to an imprisoned population. Can the master composter training program teamed with community garden development augment the Green Streets template?

So many questions, so much potential, yet who is willing to step to the plate with necessary resources, community support and wisdom to guide the creation of an effective food waste recovery template? Do we have a "Field of Dreams?" the foundation is built ... build it and they will come ...

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