The Food Waste Initiative

ELI’s Food Waste Initiative builds the capacity of state and local governments, NGOs, businesses, and communities to prevent food waste, rescue surplus food, and recycle food scraps.


Reducing food waste is a significant opportunity for cities and municipalities to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In 2022, 38 percent of food in the United States was wasted, contributing to 6.1 percent of all U.S. GHG emissions. Most emissions are released in the process of growing, transporting, processing, and storing the food. Food waste also makes up the largest component of landfill waste by weight, where it emits significant amounts of methane, a powerful GHG. While all this food is going to waste, many American households are food insecure. In 2022, 12.8 percent of all U.S. households experienced food insecurity at some point. 

Beyond reducing GHG emissions, diverting food waste can decrease the need for expansion or construction of new landfills and incinerators. This, in turn, can lessen the harmful public health impacts of these disposal facilities, which are disproportionately sited in low-income communities and communities of color.  Reducing food waste can also address food insecurity when surplus food is rescued and distributed to those who are food insecure. In addition, reducing food waste can lower municipal waste management costs, as well as food costs for households and businesses


State and local governments are well-positioned to take actions to reduce food waste, promote food security, and address climate change. They are not only responsible for managing municipal solid waste and addressing the needs of food-insecure residents, but many have set carbon reduction and climate adaptation goals. 

ELI’s Food Waste Initiative provides state and local governments, NGOs, businesses, and communities with model governance tools and capacity building resources to make it easier for them to take actions to address food waste issues. The Food Waste Initiative also focuses on solving the dual challenges of: (1) developing organics processing facilities (including composting, and anaerobic digestion); and (2) developing collection and preprocessing systems to supply food waste feedstocks. 

Model Governance Tools

ELI collaborates with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) on model ordinances, executive orders, and policies that are intended to make it easier for and to encourage municipalities to adopt food waste reduction measures. Model governance tools address a range of topics, including Pay-As-You Throw programs; reporting requirements for large food waste generators; compost procurement; lead-by-example measures for municipal operations; and removing zoning barriers to community composting.

Capacity Building Resources

ELI develops resources that build the capacity of state and local governments and stakeholders to address food waste. These resources include toolkits on incorporating food waste reduction measures in Climate Action Plans and implementing share tables in municipal schools. Some resources are tailored to specific contexts, including food waste prevention strategies for classrooms, households, and workplaces

Our Work in Practice

The Nashville Food Waste Initiative (NFWI) helps to develop and implement local strategies and tools to prevent food waste, rescue surplus food, and recycle food scraps on the ground in Nashville, TN. ELI serves as an NFWI Senior Strategic Advisor along with NRDC. NFWI was initially an NRDC pilot project that became a permanent project of the Urban Green Lab, a leading Nashville non-profit. ELI’s NFWI-related research, convenings, and publications inform its work with other cities and states around the country.