ELI Encourages EPA to Leverage Model Ordinances and Policies to Reduce Food Waste

Friday, February 16, 2024
Linda Breggin

Senior Attorney; Director of the Center for State and Local Governance

ELI recently submitted a public comment in response to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA's) request for input on the Draft National Strategy for Reducing Food Loss and Waste and Recycling Organics (Strategy). The Strategy was developed by EPA, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to help the country meet two of its national goals: the National Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal to cut food loss and waste by 50% by 2030; and the National Recycling Goal to achieve a 50% recycling rate by 2030. The four principal objectives of the Strategy are to: (1) prevent food loss where possible; (2) prevent food waste where possible; (3) increase the recycling rate for all organic waste; and (4) support policies that incentivize and encourage food loss and waste prevention and organics recycling.

The issue of food waste in the United States sits at the intersection of environmental, economic, and social challenges. Up to 40 percent of all food in this country goes uneaten each year, at enormous financial, environmental, and social cost. Annually, the food that gets wasted equates to roughly 2 percent of the entire national GDP and is responsible for 6 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. What’s more, when that food is wasted, all of the resources used to grow, harvest, transport, store, and prepare it are wasted as well—including 22 percent of all freshwater use and 16 percent of all cropland use in the United States.

Most of this wasted food ends up in landfills or incinerators, where it makes up almost a quarter of the waste stream on average. In landfills, food waste accounts for 58 percent of fugitive (leaked) methane emissions, as it often decays before gas collection systems can be installed. Both landfills and incinerators—which also can release other toxic substances into the air, soil and water—are disproportionately sited in marginalized communities.

In its comment, ELI applauds the Strategy overall and offers comments on the fourth objective, drawing on its experience working on food waste policies at the municipal level—particularly in Nashville, TN. ELI emphasized the value that model laws, ordinances, executive orders, and policies can provide to local governments by building their capacity to develop and implement food waste reduction actions. (In a separate public comment in response to the Strategy, ELI recommends that EPA identify the lack of data and tools measuring the life cycle GHG impacts for programs and policies to reduce food waste and provide technical assistance and resources.)

ELI fully supports EPA’s proposed strategic actions to support state and local governments aiming to build more circular economies. State and local governments are on the frontlines of efforts to reduce food waste, as they are tasked with managing municipal solid waste and addressing food insecurity in their communities. Reducing food waste also represents a key pathway for state and local governments to achieve their climate mitigation goals, as well as their climate adaptation and resilience goals. Limited time, staff, and other resources at the local government level, however, can make it challenging to take action by adopting new policies.

To build the capacity of local policymakers, ELI encourages the Agency to endorse and disseminate new and existing model laws, ordinances, executive orders, and policies, based on best practices and evidence-based research. By offering a model legal framework to enable food waste reduction actions, these models can save local governments valuable time and resources.

ELI and the Natural Resources Defense Council have developed several model food waste reduction policies. These models, based on extensive best practices research, provide legal language as well as background information and alternative approaches to help localities tailor the models to their specific circumstances:

Nashville, for instance, tailored the Model Executive Order to its circumstances by passing a resolution that establishes a community-wide goal of reducing food waste by 50% by 2030 (from 2017 levels) and charges municipal departments and governmental entities, such as public schools, to “review and implement where feasible standard best practices for food waste reduction.”

Other organizations, such as the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law and the U.S. Composting Council, have also developed models to encourage local food waste reduction actions.

For more information on ELI’s food waste work and model policies, visit our program page.