According to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), food waste and other organic material make up approximately 25 percent of all waste disposed of every year.1 This translates into over one million tons of compostable waste landfilled annually, of which 900,000 tons is food. In 2014, Massachusetts implemented the Commercial Food Waste Disposal Ban for facilities that dispose of one ton or more food waste per week. That waste is now banned from landfills and municipal waste combustors, and work is underway to divert the organic waste to a variety of uses. A key challenge in doing so is to ensure that this food surplus is directed to where it is most needed, ideally addressing food insecurity. Food waste that remains could be used as animal feedstock, turned into compost, or turned into energy through anaerobic digestion. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Food Recovery Hierarchy is a useful guide on how best to divert surplus foods.
From a social equity and environmental standpoint, policies and incentives should be better aligned to maximize the use of food surplus at the highest level of the Food Recovery Hierarchy before moving to the next, lower level. As the hierarchy delineates, reducing surpluses and food waste at the outset must be the top priority, followed closely by ensuring that all surplus food suitable for human consumption goes toward hunger relief. Directing the remaining food waste to animal feed, and finally to composting and anaerobic digesting for energy production comprise the next two priorities. The landfilling of food waste should always be the last resort.