Fine Print: Trying to Get a Handle on Food Waste in New Jersey

Tom Johnson | March 10, 2017 | Energy & Environment
Discarded food represents the single largest component of solid waste disposed of in the United States

food waste
What is going on: New Jersey, like the rest of the world, has a huge problem with food waste. A branch of the United Nations estimates that one-third of the food produced for human consumption each year — about 1.3 billion tons — is lost or wasted each year. In the United States, 40 percent of the food supply is not eaten, according to a study by Harvard Food and Law Policy Clinic.

Why it is a problem: There are hundreds of millions of hungry people around the globe, including a sizable number in this country. Up to 1 million New Jersey residents lack consistent access to adequate food, according to the state Office of Legislative Services. Beyond not feeding needy people, discarded food represents the single largest component of solid waste disposed of in the United States. When dumped in landfills, it rots and creates methane, a potent greenhouse gas contributing to global climate change.

What is being done: The New Jersey Legislature is considering a package of bills to deal with the issue of food waste, including a number of measures expected to be acted on by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. The panel already has voted out a bill (S-771) to use food waste as a renewable fuel to produce electricity. It would require certain large food generators — supermarkets, hospitals, and prisons — to separate and recycle food waste to an authorized facility if they create more than 104 tons per year.

What is being proposed: Probably the most important bill in the latest legislative package is a measure (S-3027) that would require the state Department of Environmental Protection, in consultation with the Department of Agriculture, to develop a plan, within a year, to determine how to reduce the amount of food waste by 50 percent by 2030. The goal is identical to a national target set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

What else can be done: The legislative proposals include a measure (S-3012) to encourage food from business inventory to be donated to charitable organizations that serve the underprivileged by allowing a deduction on their gross income tax. Another bill (S-3030) would direct the state DEP to develop guidelines for K-12 schools and higher-education institutions for recycling food waste.

What happens next: The bills have a long way to go, with most of them being heard in committee for the first time. So far, the Christie administration has not weighed in on the measures, which is common. The bills have no fiscal estimate attached to them yet.