NYS Potential Legislation Likely to Impact Large Food Waste Generators

Author: Luann Meyer

Food waste prevention, recovery and recycling are a topic of high interest globally, nationally and state-wide. United Nations leaders set a specific target in September 2015 to “halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level, and reduce food losses along production and supply chains by 2030” as part of 17 new comprehensive Sustainable Development Goals (UNDP, 2015). A week prior, the Obama administration set a national reduction food waste goal of 50 percent by 2030 (USDA, 2015).

To meet federal goals and put the U.S. on track of meeting this lofty 2030 goal, both federal and state initiatives will be necessary.  To kick start food waste prevention, recovery and recycling in New York State, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute (P2I) recently held a series of stakeholder meetings to discuss food waste problems and potential legislation for increasing food scrap recycling and food donation in New York State by:

  • Requiring large food waste generators located within 50 miles of a digester or composting facility to divert wastes for recycling or energy recovery; and

  • Requiring large food waste generators to donate edible food waste to the maximum extent practicable.

If potential legislation is proposed and ultimately passed, they are looking for it to become effective January 1, 2021.

“Designated food scraps generator:” a person who generates at a single location an annual average of two tons per week or more of excess food and food scraps, including, but not limited to, supermarkets, restaurants, educational institutions, correctional facilities, entertainment venues, hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

This potential legislation would focus on large food waste generators (also known as a designated food scraps generator), which would likely include supermarkets, restaurants, entertainment venues, colleges, healthcare facilities, and hospitals that generate over 2 tons of separated food scraps per week.

Transporters that collect source-separated food scraps would be required to deliver them to a transfer station for transport to an organics recycler or deliver to an organics recycler. Combustion facilities and landfills would not be allowed to accept source separated food scraps from a large generator after January 1, 2021 unless they have a waiver. A one year waiver may be obtained for undue hardship, such as excessive cost. 

Food Scrap Recycling

According to the NYSDEC, of the food scraps that are generated, only 1% are recycled. In this case recycled means transported and processed at an anaerobic digester or a food scrap composting facility. At this time there are 36 regulated facilities that accept food scraps in New York State and the top 4 accept over 75% of the total. The locations of these facilities are identified in the figure below.

 
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                                 Source: NYSDEC, 2016

Capacity is limited because not all digesters or composting facilities accept food scraps, and those that do are limited at the amounts they do accept. The majority of the food scraps compost facilities shown in the diagram accept less than 100 tons. 

During the NYSDEC and P2I presentation, the NYSDEC offers the following possible solutions to expand the food scrap recycling opportunities: 

  • Pursue revisions to solid waste regulations (Part 360) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) that will help ease the permitting of facilities.

  • Continue and expand current outreach efforts promoting benefits of organics donation, diversion and recycling.

  • Provide funding, which could include $2 million from Empire State Development to fund infrastructure. 

  • Pursue legislation to require large generators to donate and, if facilities are available, recycle.

Although these possible solutions alone will not bridge the gap, the NYSDEC is also offering to publish a list of designated food scrap generators, organics recyclers, and transporters that manage source-separated organics to help generators and recyclers connect.

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Potential legislation would require generators to complete an annual report to the NYSDEC, which would include the amount of excess food donated and/or excess food not donated, amount of food scraps recycled, and organics recycler(s) and transporters used. Added monitoring and recordkeeping would also be required of the generators and transporters to report accurate information to the NYSDEC.

Food Donation

Food donation is not a new concept. Food banks and food pantries have been around for decades. In 1996, President Clinton signed the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act that encouraged the donation of food and grocery products to non-profit organizations that alleviated concerns over liability issues associated with the donor, but this legislation did not require food donation. Today the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimates that 40% of food in the U.S. continues to go uneaten. This equals more than 20 pounds of food per person per month. With an estimated 14% of New Yorkers being food insecure, connecting the two issues seems practical, but is there enough capacity for storage of the materials at the generator’s site or the food bank?

Empire State Development is pursuing approvals to provide $1 million over the next 3 years to expand the capabilities of food banks in New York State. Potential legislation would require large food waste generators to donate edible food to the maximum extent practicable. This could be donations to local food banks, food pantries, and food rescue organizations. The focus initially would be on larger facilities where lost food is generated, which would include supermarkets, restaurants, colleges, and hospitals. Other facilities that may require participation in the future could include farming, post-harvest/packing, processing, distribution, retail, food service, and households. 

The key to success is connecting the generators of excess food with food pantries that can handle the quantity of material available. Many food banks do not have the space or equipment, such as cold storage, to accept large quantities of food. On the flip side, generators may not have the space to store food for donation either. Then there is the transportation aspect, which can be very costly.

Several food scrap recycling bills were introduced in the state legislature this year but none have passed either house yet - this is likely just the beginning of the conversation. Stay tuned as more information is released pertaining to large generator food scrap recycling and excess food donation.