Within the next 13 years, the state aims to reduce the amount of food waste in New Jersey by 50 percent.
Gov. Chris Christie signed the legislation (S-3027) on Friday without comment, one of dozens of bills he enacted into law.
Drawing little attention as it sailed through both houses of the Legislature unanimously, the bill is designed to address a well-recognized problem across America as evidenced by 160 billion pounds of food waste each year.
The law, part of a package of bills dealing with the issue still awaiting final approval, gives the state Department of Environmental Protection, in consultation with the Department of Agriculture, one year to develop and begin implementing a plan to accomplish the goal.
As much as 40 percent of the food that is grown, processed, and transported is never eaten, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. About 42 million Americans live in food-insecure households, according to federal agricultural officials.
“Wasting food does not make economic or environmental sense,’’ said Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the bill’s sponsor and chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. “As a state, we need to reduce food waste.’’
Food waste constitutes one of the largest sources of municipal waste that winds up in a landfill, where it can ultimately emit methane, one of the more potent greenhouse gases contributing to global warming.
“Fifty percent is an ambitious goal, but one we can reach,’’ said Guy Watson, president of the New Jersey Association of Recyclers on the governor signing the bill.
“New Jersey has long been a leader in recycling,’’ Watson said. “This is our chance to turn what now is worthless garbage into valuable energy, agricultural, and landscaping products.’’
If 50 percent of the nation’s food waste was converted to energy in waste-to-energy facilities, it could power up to 2.5 million homes a year, according to the EPA. The Senate has passed a bill (S-771) to require large generators of food waste, such as supermarkets, hospitals, and prisons, to recycle their waste.
The legislation could help the state achieve its 50 percent goal of reducing food waste, Watson said. “The governor’s signature is proof of New Jersey’s continued commitment to recycling.’’
Other parts of the food-waste package pending before lawmakers are bills to revamp food-labeling practices and amend the law to make it easier to donate food to those who need it.
One of the bills (S-3028) would revise food-labeling requirements to conform to a proposal being debated nationwide to give food producers the option of labeling a product with a best-if-used date, or a food-expiration date. The other bill (S-3012) would encourage businesses, institutions, and schools to donate food before it goes to waste.