Massachusetts Food System Collaborative
Massachusetts Food System Collaborative

Inputs: Goal 1

Less food will be wasted.

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.

Recommendation 1.1: Effectively support the Massachusetts Commercial Food Waste Disposal Ban.

Action 1.1.1: Promote and leverage the MassDEP technical assistance service, RecyclingWorks, to help food waste generators comply with the waste ban.

Action 1.1.2: Provide technical assistance to municipalities to introduce their own voluntary programs for residential food waste disposal or food waste from institutions disposal below the one ton/week level.

Action 1.1.3: Explore expanding the statewide Commercial Food Waste Disposal Ban to phase in smaller food waste generators and residential food waste over time.

Recommendation 1.2: Prioritize reducing food waste and ensure that all stakeholders have the resources and technical assistance needed to affordably reduce food waste.

Action 1.2.1: Initiate a statewide food waste reduction campaign similar to the United Kingdom’s “Love Food Hate Waste” campaign or California’s “Food is Too Good to Waste” campaign to provide consumer education and highlight the environmental benefits of reducing food waste.

Action 1.2.2: Align State initiatives with the EPA’s and USDA’s national goal to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030.

Action 1.2.3: Launch an educational campaign to teach consumers about when a product is still safe to eat, even past the expiration or sell by date.

Action 1.2.4: Clarify expiration or sell by dates, and reduce the number of foods that require a date label, using information from Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic.[2]

Action 1.2.5: Support increased utilization of food waste tracking/auditing systems at large generators of food waste such as institutions and grocery stores, to improve management practices and better understand the amount of food waste generated and diverted.

Action 1.2.6: Encourage and support the development of innovative technology to efficiently separate food from packaging so more food can be composted or turned into energy.

Recommendation 1.3: Increase food donations and support stakeholders addressing food insecurity.

Action 1.3.1: Increase outreach and education on food donation opportunities, including the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which provides liability protections for donators.

Action 1.3.2: Implement a State tax credit for farmers and others who donate surplus food. Currently, there is no State tax credit for food donation and only C-corporations are eligible for the federal enhanced tax credits and most Massachusetts farmers do not meet these criteria.[3]

Action 1.3.3: Explore and implement financial incentives and service fees to support food donation distributors, many of which rely exclusively on charitable donations to fund their work.

Action 1.3.4: Increase refrigerated storage capacity at food pantries through public funding or connections with under-used, existing, nearby facilities to allow food pantries to accept more donations of fresh, perishable foods.

Action 1.3.5: Increase participation in existing education and training around the handling of fresh food for those donating, distributing, and serving the food. Best management practices are being developed through a collaborative effort of the EPA, Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), and MassDEP, with support from Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Center for Ecological Technology (CET).

Action 1.3.6: Increase education and consistent implementation of public health regulations regarding food donation.

Action 1.3.7: Create a communication network so that farmers can connect with volunteers willing to harvest and distribute a crop in an overly abundant year.

Recommendation 1.4: Maximize anaerobic digestion and industrial uses for food waste after higher steps in the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy are exhausted.

Action 1.4.1: Facilitate reuse of non-hazardous food processing wastewater

Action 1.4.2: Maximize opportunities for anaerobic digestion at municipal wastewater treatment facilities that are designed to handle food waste materials.

Action 1.4.3: Develop a market for solids and liquids produced during the anaerobic digestion process.

Action 1.4.4: Support infrastructure development for handling and preparing food waste for anaerobic digestion, including packaged foods and industrial waste water.

Action 1.4.5: Create a network of food scrap transfer stations to provide more efficient delivery of food waste to anaerobic digestion facilities.

Action 1.4.6: Advance and incentivize smaller-scale anaerobic digestion technology installations for farms, schools, supermarkets, and at other sites such as State prisons and colleges and universities.

Recommendation 1.5: Maximize the composting of food waste after the steps in the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy are exhausted.

Action 1.5.1: Expand the variety of composting site locations, capabilities (including technologies to separate packaging as well as livestock carcasses), and scales able to handle the range of compost materials.

Action 1.5.2: Provide technical assistance to increase the prevalence of community scale composting operations, creating high-quality and affordable compost, particularly near farms.

Action 1.5.3: Support the development of equipment and processes to separate packaging from food waste.

Action 1.5.4: Train food scrap generators to avoid contamination of food waste.

Action 1.5.5: Develop compost sites that reduce nuisance conditions, while still producing a viable soil amendment product from the process.

Action 1.5.6: Create a State procurement preference for Massachusetts-produced compost. State contracts and other large purchasers should specify the type and quality of compost for varying uses (e.g., athletic fields, holding slopes).

Action 1.5.7: Include Massachusetts-produced compost in marketing efforts for locally produced agricultural products.

Action 1.5.8: Provide technical assistance to small-scale composters to help prepare and package compost so it is ready for distribution and retail sale.

Action 1.5.9: Provide more education and technical assistance to homeowners and landscapers for proper methods of composting and proper disposal of yard waste through local boards of health, energy committees or other municipal groups.

Action 1.5.10: Assist farmers in the conversion of on-farm and local food wastes to be converted into animal feed where appropriate.

[1] MA DEP. (2015). Fact Sheet: Food Waste Composting, Accessed October 2015 from

[2] Broad Leib, Emily, et. al. (2013). The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America. NRDC Report, September 2013. Accessed April 2015 from

[3] Feeding America. (2013). Federal Tax Incentives for Food Donations. Accessed October 2015 from

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Massachusetts Food System Collaborative