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Report: Pennsylvania Needs Organic Recycling Law to Reduce Food Waste

Published by Waste Dive on September 18, 2017. Written by Cole Rosengren.

Dive Brief:

  • Philabundance, a nonprofit food bank based in Pennsylvania, released a new report with 28 recommendations for reducing food waste in the state. Researched by the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), the report gives particular emphasis to passing a state food waste recycling law and standardizing date labeling regulations.
  • The report recommends enacting an organic waste ban similar to what four New England states have done. Gradually phasing in requirements for all generators, with an emphasis on food recovery, is seen as most preferable.
  • Pennsylvania currently has 48 composting facilities and 14 anaerobic digesters, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. Though when factoring in co-digestion potential at farm digesters and wastewater treatment facilities — based on data from the Environmental Protection Agency and Water Environment Federation — that number may be as high as 111. The report recommends updating state permitting regulations, offering grants or loans for new facilities and working with farmers to develop composting operations on their sites.

Dive Insight:

Pennsylvania’s landfills have been a popular destination for other Northeastern states to send their waste over the years. Mixed progress on reducing or diverting waste locally has put further strain on these assets. As the state’s Department of Environmental Protection works to develop a new 10-year waste management plan, and Philadelphia embarks on its own “zero waste” mission, this is seen as the perfect moment to think big. While recovery is the primary focus for Philabundance they also recognize the importance of advocating for change at all levels of the hierarchy.

“It is such a ridiculous thing that we have an overabundance of hunger yet also an overabundance of waste and food waste. Those things don’t exist in a vacuum,” said Kait Bowdler, deputy director of sustainability for the nonprofit.

By teaming up with the FLPC, a leader in the national policy conversation, Philabundance gained access to knowledge on how this work has played out in other states and where there may be areas of opportunity. The report’s scope — covering tax incentives, donation liability, date labels, food safety, school recycling and more — was intentionally broad. Philabundance hopes to start making as much progress as quickly as possible, recognizing that some items may be easier to achieve than others.

A potential state organic waste ban or diversion mandate will take time. Vermont’s approach of gradually banning all food scraps from landfills by 2020 is seen as the most ideal option because of its comprehensive scope and role in driving a 60% increase in food donations. Though it has also been met with resistance by some local haulers due to upfront investment costs. Recognizing the investment required in new equipment for collecting organic material, and places to take it, is a big factor in Philabundance’s plans. Updating permit requirements, like Maryland has recently begun doing, is seen as another way to speed up this process.

According to Bowdler, Philabundance still has a need for organics recycling options because some of the material they receive doesn’t stay fresh long enough to be recovered. Enhancing transportation and storage infrastructure for recovered food can help them make the most out of existing partnerships around the region. For example, the nonprofit works with the Port of Philadelphia to recover leftover produce shipped in from around the world. Within the past six months they’ve collected about 11 million pounds of food that was distributed to 60 food banks across 30 states. Recycling food will always be a necessary part of the hierarchy, but improving the efficiency of recovery processes may reduce the need for it in the first place.

The timeline for advancing these ideas, many of which will require state legislative support, will be determined once Philabundance gathers a wider group of stakeholders. The hope is to join Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut and California on the state-level food waste fight, hopefully within a year. Though as seen in New York earlier this year, getting these types of policies through at the state level isn’t always easy. The fact that Philadelphia is moving ahead so aggressively, and neighboring New Jersey passed its own food waste legislation recently, is seen as a good sign.

“That sort of gives us hope that this should be a bipartisan issue, or a nonpartisan issue,” said Emma Kornetsky, Philabundance’s manager of government affairs.

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