Food Waste Accounts for 58% of Methane in Landfills

More than 50 local officials are asking the EPA to help accelerate food scrap recycling
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 12, 2023 4:25 PM CST
Food Waste Accounts for 58% of Methane in Landfills
Organic material is picked up to be loaded onto a truck at the GreenWaste Zanker Resource Recovery Facility in San Jose, California.   (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

More than one-third of the food produced in the US is never eaten. Much of it ends up in landfills, where it generates tons of methane that hastens climate change. That's why more than 50 local officials signed onto a letter Tuesday calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to help municipal governments cut food waste in their communities. The letter came on the heels of two recent reports from the EPA on the scope of America's food waste problem and the damage that results from it, per the AP. The local officials pressed the agency to expand grant funding and technical help for landfill alternatives.

They also urged the agency to update landfill standards to require better prevention, detection, and reduction of methane emissions, something scientists already have the technology to do but which can be challenging to implement since food waste breaks down and starts generating methane quickly. Tackling food waste is a daunting challenge that the US has taken on before. In 2015, the US Department of Agriculture and the EPA set a goal of cutting food waste in half by 2030, but the country has made little progress, said Claudia Fabiano, who works on food waste management for the EPA. "We've got a long way to go," Fabiano said. Researchers say the EPA reports provide sorely needed information.

One report found that 58% of methane emissions from landfills come from food waste, a major issue because methane is responsible for about a quarter of global warming and has significantly more warming potential than carbon dioxide. With the extent of the problem clearly defined, some elected leaders and researchers alike hope to take action. But they say it will take not just investment of resources but also a major mindset shift from the public. Farmers may need to change some practices, manufacturers will need to rethink how they package and market goods, and individuals need to find ways to keep food from going to waste.

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So, for the first time since the 1990s, the EPA updated its ranking of preferred strategies for waste reduction, ranging from preventing wasted food altogether (by not producing or buying it in the first place) to composting or anaerobic digestion, a process by which food waste can be turned into biogas inside a reactor. But reducing waste requires a big psychological change and lifestyle shift from individuals no matter what. Researchers say households are responsible for at least 40% of food waste in the US. Some local governments have been working on this issue. California began requiring every jurisdiction to provide organic waste collection services starting in 2022. Others, however, don't have as much of a head start. Chicago, for instance, just launched a citywide composting pilot program two weeks ago that set up free food waste drop-off points around the city. (More stories about food waste).

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