Intending to deal with both a social and an environmental problem, a Senate committee yesterday approved a five-bill legislative package to try to reduce food waste and help hungry families.
In a rapid fashion and without much debate, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee easily voted out the bills, one of which has the goal of reducing food waste by at least one-half in New Jersey.
Beyond reducing the state’s share of the estimated 160 billion pounds of food wasted each year in this country, the legislation seeks to revamp food-labeling practices and to make it easier to donate food to those who need it.
“It’s amazing how much food Americans waste,’’ said Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the committee and sponsor of several bills in the package, “like mind-boggling amounts.’’
As much as 40 percent of the food in the U.S. is uneaten, Smith said.
“It’s a tragedy socially because there are so many hungry people in this country,’’ he said, noting one estimate that 42 million Americans live in food-insecure households. “It’s also a problem environmentally because so much of that waste ends up in landfills.’’
Once in the dump, the food rots, releasing methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.
Probably the most ambitious of the bills is a measure (S-3027), sponsored by Smith, that would seek to reduce by 2030 the amount of food waste in the state by 50 percent. The state Department of Environmental Protection, in consultation with the Department of Agriculture, would be required to develop a plan to do so within a year.
“This is an intelligent alternative to improve our environment,’’ said Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer), a co-sponsor. “We have a problem with waste in this country, and recycling solid waste is a viable system that will produce energy to provide to our homes, school and businesses.’’
A second bill (S-3028), with the same sponsors, aims to revise food-labeling requirements. Essentially, it is modeled on a proposal being debated nationwide that would give producers two options — one to label a product with a best-if-used-by date or a food-expiration date.
The other bills in the package are meant to encourage businesses, hospitals, institutions, and schools to donate food before it goes to waste.
One bill (S-3012), sponsored by Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), would allow taxpayers to deduct charitable food donations from business inventory on their gross income taxes. Lesniak said it would encourage more food donations to soup kitchens and food banks that help the most vulnerable in the state.
Another bill would merge two measures (S-2360 and S-3030) to direct the Department of Agriculture to establish voluntary guidelines for schools and higher education institutions to donate excess food and extend Food Bank Good Samaritan Act protections to schools. The sponsors are Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington) and Greenstein.
The final bill (S-3026) by Smith would expand liability protection for food donors.