Earth Matters: Food opportunity not food waste

The Island Now

Wasted food is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions that each of us can easily do something about.

Every time you scrape your plate into the trash and put that trash on the curb for the garbage truck to pick up and take to the next transporter to eventually have it delivered to a landfill, you have actively contributed to climate change instead of proactively reducing your greenhouse gas emissions.

That is because food that ends up in a landfill eventually decomposes and releases methane, the most potent greenhouse gas contributing to climate change.

That food on your plate is not trash. It has the potential to be a meal for someone else either directly by being put away and eaten as leftovers or indirectly by being composted and used to grow new food.

New York State has taken a major step to eliminate anyone ever thinking of food as trash. The Food Donation and Food Scraps Recycling Law, enacted in April 2019, goes into effect Jan. 1, 2022.

Through this legislation, New York joins many other states in addressing the loss of 30-40 percent of food produced in this country. Starting in the field where the food is grown or raised and ending at your plate, we discard more than a third of the food we grow and raise in the United States.

That is happening while nearly 3 million people in New York state alone are food insecure. Instead of feeding people with that food, we are sending it to landfills where it produces methane gas, which is tied to climate change and its consequences, like extreme weather events and sea-level rise, which then jeopardize our ability to grow and raise food. You can appreciate the irony.

Under New York State law, large generators of food scraps must separate and donate edible food and separate and recycle all remaining food scraps if they are located within 25 miles of an organics recycler that has the capacity to accept the facility’s food scraps.

A large generator of food scraps is any entity that has more than 2 tons of wasted food and food scraps per week on average. Hospitals, nursing homes, adult care facilities and K-12 schools are excluded.

Food scraps refer to inedible food, trimmings from the preparation of food, food-soiled paper, edible food that is not donated, and food processing waste. Food scraps do not include used cooking oil, yellow grease, or any food which is subject to a recall or seizure due to the presence of pathogens.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) divided all facilities in the state into sectors to determine whether they qualified as a large generator of food scraps and thus should be included on the list of designated food scrap generators. The sectors include:
• colleges and universities
• correctional facilities and jails
• grocery and specialty food stores
• hospitality
• restaurants
• supercenters
• other generators (amusement and theme parks, casinos and racetracks, malls, military bases, sporting venues, wholesale and distribution)

Once the sectors were identified, the state had to find a way to determine if a facility is likely to generate more than 2 tons of wasted food and food scraps per week on average. DEC contracted with the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute at Rochester Institute of Technology to identify factors for listing a facility as a designated food scraps generators and therefore subject to this law.

Based on NYSP2I’s research into business sectors and other states with similar laws, DEC adopted a formula based on the number of employees, students, or inmates for each sector.

This number is tied to a number of pounds of food waste per year and together that information was used to determine the minimum number of people working, going to school or housed at a facility to meet the law’s 2 tons threshold.

Reviewing the list of facilities subject to the requirements of this law published by DEC on June 1, 2021 was fascinating.

Who knew that all these companies were on Long Island and that they generated so much wasted food? Here are some that jumped out: Nassau County Correctional Center, Adelphi University, Hofstra University, Nassau Community College, Suffolk County Community College, SUNY (Farmingdale and Stonybrook), Key Foods, King Kullen, Stop & Shop, Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace, Whole Foods, Costco, Target, Walmart, Danford’s Hotel & Marina, Gurney’s Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa, Hampton Inn & Suites, Hyatt Place, Jake’s 58 Casino Hotel, Long Island Marriott, The Fox Hollow, The Garden City Hotel, Raddison Hotel, Residence Inn by Marriott, Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill + Bar, Bethpage Golf Course, Chili’s Grill & Bar, Cozymel’s Mexican Grill, Crest Hollow Country Club, Dave & Buster’s, Grotta di Fuoco, Hendrick’s Tavern, Houlihan’s, Maggiano’s Little Italy, McDonald’s, Milleridge Inn, Morton’s The Steakhouse, Nautilus Diner, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, TGI Friday’s, Vincent’s Clam Bar, Adventureland, County Fair Entertainment and Event Park, Restaurant Depot, Apple & Eve, Broadway Mall, Greenacres Mall, Roosevelt Field Shopping Center, Walt Whitman Shops, and Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Then there are many wholesalers and distributors like Astra Group, Inc., Coffee Distributing Corp., Crystal Cove, Darik Enterprises Inc., Harbor Seafood, Inc., House of Spices, Kelsen Inc., Yorkshire Food Sale, Walker’s Shortbread Inc., and William H. Kopke Jr. Inc.

The facilities have until the start of 2022 to put processes in place to comply with the law. In the meantime, you can encourage any of the facilities to do more than the law requires.

For example, they may not be required to recycle food scraps that can’t be donated, but they can choose to institute a recycling program for their food waste and further reduce how much they send to the landfill to produce methane gas.

You can contact your local public officials and encourage them to expand food recycling options in your community to assist businesses in reducing how much they send to the landfill. The DEC has only identified one composting facility in Suffolk County.

There are none listed in Nassau County. There are facilities listed as servicing Nassau and Suffolk County so there are options, but we could use many more. You can follow the state’s lead and implement similar steps in your home: reduce your personal wasted food footprint and recycle what can’t be part of a meal.

Food should never be viewed as waste but should be appreciated as sustenance either directly or indirectly to help grow new food.
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