Model Executive Order Helps Cities Lead by Example on Food Waste

Public bins for separating waste into recycling, landfill, and compostable items on the UC Berkeley campus items) on the campus of University of California Berkeley.

Public bins for separating waste into recycling, landfill, and compostable items on the campus of University of California Berkeley, July 13, 2019.


Andrei Stanescu/iStock

Co-authored with Linda Breggin and Jessica Sugarman, Environmental Law Institute

A new Model Executive Order on Municipal Leadership on Food Waste Reduction developed by NRDC and the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) can help municipalities reduce the amount of food wasted throughout municipal operations, highlight the importance of reducing food waste, and demonstrate food waste reduction measures that businesses and other entities may voluntarily replicate.

Up to 40 percent of food in the United States is wasted. Local governments are well-positioned to address our nation’s food waste problem, and to lead by example in doing so. Given the large amount of food that some municipalities procure and the many people that they employ, the impact of food waste reduction measures in municipal operations can be substantial and far-reaching.

The best practices that municipalities implement as part of this new model executive order will lead to direct reductions in municipal food waste generation and disposal and allow municipalities to raise awareness about food waste and encourage food waste reduction—not only among municipal employees but among businesses and other local entities as well.

While the lead by example (LBE) concept has been deployed by states and cities in a range of sustainability contexts (one of the most common examples is energy efficiency), ELI’s research did not identify any state or local LBE initiatives focused specifically on food waste reduction. The model is intended to fill this gap and help cities realize the myriad environmental, social, and economic benefits of leading by example on food waste reduction. It includes provisions based on extensive best practices research related to staffing, municipal buildings and properties, municipal departments that serve food, special event permitting, procurement laws and policies, municipal education programs, benefits and recognition programs for municipal employees, and department-specific strategies. 

For example, the model calls for a municipality to hire or designate a city food waste coordinator and/or to designate a cross-agency working group to serve as a central entity for coordinating municipal food waste reduction efforts. If local circumstances make a dedicated coordinator or working group infeasible, a municipality could allocate new duties among existing sustainability or facilities staff. 

Similarly, the model suggests six best practices for municipal departments that regularly serve food; ultimately, though, the specific food waste reduction practices that a municipality requires will likely vary according to local circumstances and stakeholder input. Finally, an accompanying presentation is intended for use by local government officials or other stakeholders to help explain the executive order to those who might be unfamiliar.

We hope this model executive order will help municipalities, particularly small and mid-sized local governments, to lead by example in their own operations and realize the many benefits of diverting food waste from landfills—including mitigating climate change, conserving natural resources, redistributing surplus food, saving money, extending the useful life of landfills, and creating compost products for soil amendment.

The Model Executive Order on Municipal Leadership on Food Waste Reduction is part of an ongoing effort to provide municipalities and advocates with tools to reduce the time and resources associated with taking food waste reduction actions. Other models published so far include a Model Ordinance on Mandatory Reporting for Large Food Waste Generators and a Model Compost Procurement Policy. Additional policy resources and information can be found at the sites for ELI’s Center for State, Tribal and Local Environmental Programs, the ELI Food Waste Initiative, and NRDC's Food Matters page.

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