Americans are still putting way too much food into landfills. Local officials seek EPA’s help

Shredded organic materials are piled up before being taken to a anaerobic digester at a GreenWaste Zanker Resource Recovery Facility in San Jose, Calif., Friday, Oct. 27, 2023. For the first time since the 1990s, the EPA updated its ranking of preferred strategies for waste reduction, ranging from preventing wasted food altogether (by not producing or buying it in the first place) to composting or anaerobic digestion, a process by which food waste can be turned into energy in the form of biogas.

Tackling food waste is a daunting challenge that the U.S. has taken on before. 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 for the EPA.

With the extent of the problem clearly defined, some elected leaders and researchers alike hope to take action. But they say it will take not just investment of resources but also a major mindset shift from the public. Farmers may need to change some practices, manufacturers will need to rethink how they package and market goods, and individuals need to find ways to keep food from going to waste.

But reducing waste requires a big psychological change and lifestyle shift from individuals no matter what. Researchers say households are responsible for at least 40% of food waste in the U.S. “I think it is possible to get zero organic waste into landfills,” Ashton said. “But it means that we need an infrastructure to enable that in different locations within cities and more rural regions. It means we need incentives both for households as well as for commercial institutions.”

Some local governments have been working on this issue for a while. California began requiring every jurisdiction to provide organic waste collection services starting in 2022. But others don’t have as much of a head start. Chicago, for instance, just launched a city-wide composting pilot program two weeks ago that set up free food waste drop-off points around the city. But prospective users have to transport their food scraps themselves.

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