Written April 2019 by Ariana Bloom, student in the Food Law and Policy Clinic.
In April, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. to attend the EPA, USDA, and FDA’s Winning on Reducing Food Waste event at the Environmental Protection Agency. The event began with remarks from EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and FDA Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannas, who discussed the importance of reducing the amount of food waste that ends up in landfills. Secretary Purdue mentioned that 30% of food in the U.S. is wasted, and Deputy Commissioner Yiannis noted that this amounts to about $165 billion dollars a year wasted due to food waste. The federal administrators also shared thoughts on why reducing food waste was such a worthwhile goal. They focused on the potential to increase food security, generate energy, and create jobs.
At the meeting, representatives of all three agencies discussed the need to streamline existing policies regarding food waste and to come up with concrete measures to reduce food waste in the U.S. The agency representatives then introduced a federal interagency strategy aimed at reducing the amount of food that ends up in landfills. As Secretary Purdue explained, this strategy will address six priority areas: (1) Enhancing Interagency Coordination to enable agencies to use government funds more effectively, (2) Increasing Consumer Education and Outreach Efforts to help households reduce their waste generation, (3) Improving Coordination and Guidance on Food Loss and Waste Measurement, (4) Clarifying and Communicating Information on Food Safety, Food Date Labels, and Food Donation to reduce food lost due to confusion, (5) Collaborating with Private Industry to Reduce Food Loss, and (6) Encouraging Food Waste Reducing in Federal Agencies. For FLPC’s analysis of the strategy, see our earlier blog post.
Following the presentation of the interagency strategy, the agencies all joined together to sign an agreement with ReFED to collaborate on their efforts to reduce food waste. ReFED is a multi-stakeholder nonprofit that takes a data-driven approach to address food waste and help advance the national goal of reducing food waste 50% by 2030.
After the agencies officially signed the agreement with ReFED, attendees at the conference had the opportunity to share their specific food waste reduction efforts with the room. For example, attendees discussed their work encouraging local growers to set aside surplus produce from their fields for food banks and developing direct lines of communication between food growers and foodbanks. Others discussed their work on food conservation in schools, specifically highlighting the potential for “share tables” to salvage wrapped and uneaten food that would otherwise be discarded.
It was inspiring to hear activists from both the private and the public sector come together to discuss the creative ways they are making a difference. Attendees seemed excited about the notion that the food waste problem was getting publicity, and participants agreed that increasing awareness of the issue and the potential benefits of food waste reduction, donation, and composting was an important step towards progress.
It was also encouraging to see that people on both the federal and local level, as well as from both ends of the political spectrum, were united in their goals of reducing food waste in a way that is sustainable and trackable over time. As participants at the meeting made clear, there is already a tremendous amount of movement and ingenuity at the local level to develop practical solutions for waste reduction. Now that federal agencies have declared their support for the issue, they can use their resources and platform to support local efforts to reduce food waste by contributing to education, infrastructure, and policy on a larger scale.
Over the course of this semester, it has been a pleasure to work on this issue at the local level by supporting municipalities in the development and implementation of policies to encourage waste generators to track and reduce the amount of food waste that they produce and that ends up in landfills. Attending the event at the EPA underscored the importance of my work with FLPC and demonstrated that we are not alone in our efforts.