New York State Budget Misses Major Opportunity on Food Waste

The 2018-2019 New York State Budget was finalized last week. Unfortunately, it did not include the Governor’s great proposal on food waste and as a result missed a huge opportunity to get healthy food to hungry New Yorkers and fight climate change.

Earlier this year Governor Cuomo put forth a comprehensive proposal to address food waste by preventing, recovering and recycling excess food across the state. This is a timely and necessary effort. More than 2.5 million New Yorkers struggle to have enough to eat. At the same time, 40% of the food produced in this country is wasted—and here in New York, food makes up 18% of our municipal solid waste stream. The vast majority of this food is disposed of in landfills where it breaks down and releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas. We are throwing away wholesome food that could instead help feed our fellow citizens in need.

The Governor’s proposal—the Food Recovery and Recycling Act, and related funding—would have begun to make food production, consumption, and disposal more sustainable by discouraging the production, distribution, and preparation of excess food; by recovering excess food for those in need; and by recycling food scraps that remain. In doing so, it had the potential to feed hungry New Yorkers and fight climate change at the same time. I have blogged about the specifics of the bill before, if you want to read more.

The Governor’s proposal received wide support—including a fantastic op-ed in Newsday. And we had a strong coalition of hunger, business and environmental groups behind the effort. Unfortunately, despite this support and the clear win-win nature of this bill, it was not included in the Senate’s version of the budget and did not survive the negotiations between the two houses and the Governor.

We were pleased, however, to see that the budget did include the Governor’s proposal to make schools that purchase 30 percent of their lunch ingredients from New York farms eligible to receive a state reimbursement of $0.25 per meal—four times the amount the state currently provides per meal. Too many children in New York struggle with not knowing where their next meal is coming from and because of this, their school cafeteria plays a critical role in feeding them every day. Though this piece of the state budget will help the state’s schools purchase more fresh, healthy food, it would have been much stronger if it was paired with food waste efforts that increase healthy food at the pantries that so many of the same families depend on.

The Food Recovery and Recycling Act continues to be a major priority for NRDC and other coalition members. We look forward to continuing to work on this in the weeks and months to come.