Sustainable Living in NYC: Reducing Food Waste in the City and Beyond

Photo courtesy of treehugger.com

Photo courtesy of treehugger.com

France made international headlines in May when its national assembly voted unanimously to pass a law banning supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food. If the food is still safe to eat, it will need to be donated to charity; if not, it will be donated to farmers and turned into animal feed or compost. The law will also introduce an educational program about food waste in schools and businesses, as part of a wider drive to halve the amount of food waste in France by 2025.

In recent years, we’ve seen similar efforts to reduce food waste here in the United States. A number of federal laws encourage food donation by providing liability protection or tax incentives to donors. The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act protects food donors from liability in order to encourage restaurants and grocery stores to donate food to qualified nonprofit organizations. Internal Revenue Code 170(e)(3) allows business taxpayers to deduct food production costs based on the market value of donated food, and the U.S. Federal Food Donation Act of 2008 encourages federal agencies to donate excess food to feed food-insecure people in the United States. Despite these efforts, in 2010, 31% of the 430 billion pounds of the country’s available food supply – that’s 133 billion pounds – went uneaten.

Since there is still so much work to be done in diverting food waste, NYC has taken up the cause on a local level. In 2013, former Mayor Bloomberg committed to diverting 75% of New York City’s waste from landfills by 2030. He launched the Food Waste Challenge, which reduced organic waste city-wide by 2,500 tons in the first six months. The Food Waste Challenge, which is a voluntary program, encourages city restaurants to commit to reducing landfill waste and to increasing organic waste diversion. More than one-quarter of the diverted organic waste was edible food donated to City food banks.

Also in 2013, the City Council passed Local Law 146, which requires city businesses in the food industry to recycle their organic waste. The law, which went into effect on July 1 of this year, is effectively on hold after the Peninsula Composting Group was forced to shut its $20 million food-waste operation in Wilmington, Delaware in November 2014. The Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control refused to renew Peninsula’s permit due to complaints from residents who lived nearby about the odor coming from the plant. While the city waits for other facilities to open up, the Waste Management division is installing equipment at its Varick Street facility in north Brooklyn to see if it can efficiently convert food waste into energy. The pilot project is set to start at the end of this year, and will be expanded if it works.


NYC Food Waste Drop-Off Sites – Map courtesy of nyc.gov

If you would like to join the city’s efforts, the EPA website has information on how to donate excess food, including which items can be donated and where to donate them. The city has also established a residential food waste drop-off program, which encourages NYC residents to take food waste for composting to drop-off sites located throughout the five boroughs. City Harvest, an NYC nonprofit, rescues food from all segments of the food industry including restaurants, wholesalers, green markets, bakeries, caterers, hospitals and corporate cafeterias, as well as canned food drives. You can find information on how to donate or volunteer on their website.

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