Feed People and the Soil, Starve Landfills and Incinerators

Compost at Baltimore Compost Collective | © MurmurRing/Miriam Doan

NRDC’s Food Matters initiative unites cities in strategies to waste less food, by preventing food from going to waste, rescuing surplus food to redistribute to people in need, and recycling food scraps to replenish soils. Cities, states, and federal governments all have a critical role to play in creating policies and programs to reduce the amount of food that is wasted. Our work has included partnerships with cities like Baltimore, whose multifaceted Food Waste and Recovery Strategy encompasses strategies including a focus on community composting. Now, the state of Maryland has an opportunity to help move forward efforts like Baltimore’s through the introduction of a bill (HB-264, Organics Recycling and Waste Diversion), which would require sites that produce more than two tons of food waste per week to separate and reduce, donate, or recycle surplus food and food scraps.

Up to 40% of all food is lost or wasted in the US. Wasted food is not only expensive, but is also an environmental tragedy because of the enormous loss of natural resources used to produce, process, store, and transport food. Nearly one-fifth of US cropland, fertilizers, and agricultural water are used to grow food that is ultimately wasted. Food is also the largest input by weight into landfills and incinerators, where it contributes to global warming with high levels of methane emissions. Nearly 80% of municipal waste incinerators are located in lower-income areas and on Indigenous lands, where they disproportionately affect communities of color.

Bills like HB-264 offer an alternative to throwing out this valuable material, with proven success in helping to increase prevention, donation, and recycling. For example, after Vermont passed a similar bill, surplus food donation in the state tripled. This bill will also spur growth of infrastructure to collect and recycle food scraps, which in turn creates jobs. According to a 2013 report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, expanding composting and local compost use could support almost 1,400 new full-time jobs in Maryland, with wages ranging from $23 million to $57 million. And the compost created can be used to bolster soil health and local food systems: adding compost to soils helps replenish nutrients, sequester carbon, increase water retention and nutrient storage capacity, and reduce the need for fertilizers and pesticides manufactured from fossil fuels.

At a time when one in four American adults face hunger, it is particularly imperative that we look for ways to ensure food is eaten, not disposed. HB-264 will help Maryland move forward with critical strategies to conserve and donate food that otherwise would have gone to waste, and recycle anything remaining. Please urge elected officials in Maryland to support this bill by signing on at this link

About the Authors

Yvette Cabrera

Director, Food Waste, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

Darby Hoover

Senior Resource Specialist, Food Waste Initiatives, Health and Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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