Two recent reports from the Environmental Protection Agency provide stark numbers on the food waste problem in the United States.
The letter follows two recent EPA reports on the scale of the food waste problem in the United States and the harm it causes. Local officials have pressed the agency to increase grants and technical assistance for landfill alternatives. They also urged the agency to update landfill standards to require better prevention, detection and reduction of methane emissions, something scientists already have the technology to do but can be difficult to be implemented since food waste decomposes and begins to quickly generate methane.
Combating food waste is a major challenge that the United States has already overcome. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the EPA set a goal of cutting food waste in half by 2030, but the country has made little progress, said Claudia Fabiano, who works on food waste management. of food waste for the EPA.
“We have a long way to go,” Fabiano said.
Researchers say the EPA reports provide much-needed information. A report finds that 58% of methane emissions from landfills come from food waste, a major problem because methane is responsible for about a quarter of global warming and has a much higher warming potential than carbon dioxide.
With the scale of the problem clearly defined, some elected officials and researchers hope to act. But they say it will require not only an investment of resources, but also a major shift in mentality on the part of the public. Farmers may need to change some practices, manufacturers will need to rethink how they package and market their products, and individuals will need to find ways to avoid food waste.
Thus, for the first time since the 1990s, the EPA has updated its ranking of preferred strategies for reducing waste, ranging from avoiding food waste altogether (by not producing it or not purchasing it in First) to composting or anaerobic digestion, a process by which food waste can be transformed into biogas inside a reactor. Prevention remains the primary strategy, but the new rankings include more nuance comparing options so communities can decide how to prioritize their investments.
But reducing waste requires a major psychological shift and lifestyle change on the part of individuals, no matter what. Researchers say that households are responsible for at least 40% of food waste in the United States.
It’s a more pressing problem than ever, said Weslynne Ashton, a professor of environmental management and sustainability at the Illinois Institute of Technology, who was not involved in the EPA reports. Americans have been conditioned to expect abundance in grocery stores and on their plates, and it’s costly to remove all that food from the waste stream.
“I think it’s possible to put zero organic waste into landfills,” Ashton said. “But that means we need infrastructure to enable this in different locations in cities and more rural areas. This means we need incentives for both households and commercial institutions.”
With the problem clearly defined and quantified, it remains to be seen whether communities and states will receive additional help or guidance from the federal level – and what change they will be able to make one way or another. The EPA recently funneled some Inflation Reduction Act money into recycling support, which included funding for organic waste, but these are relatively new programs.
Some local authorities have been working on this issue for some time. California began requiring every jurisdiction to provide organic waste collection services starting in 2022. But others aren’t as far ahead. Chicago, for example, just launched a citywide composting pilot program two weeks ago, which set up free food waste drop-off points throughout the city. But potential users must transport their leftover food themselves.
Ning Ai, associate professor of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the report could be strengthened with more specific information on how different communities can adopt localized solutions, to the extent where food waste prevention may be different in rural and urban areas. in different regions of the country. But she was also impressed that the report highlighted tradeoffs in environmental impacts between air, water and land, something she said is not often documented as aggressively.
“These two reports, as well as some of the older ones, clearly stand out as a boost to the national momentum toward waste reduction,” said Ai, who was not involved in the EPA research.
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