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Food Waste State Legislative Round-Up

This post was written by Samantha Goerger, Policy Fellow for ReFED.

Effective policy at the state level is a critical lever for reducing food loss and waste, and state legislative bodies have been busy over the past months and year introducing and passing policies tackling food loss and waste. Since January 2022, states have introduced or actively carried over 70 bills on food loss and waste, 14 of which passed (a roundup of all 2021 bills is available here). Proposed bills were concentrated around funding and research, and many donation liability protection and tax incentive bills passed. ReFED in partnership with the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) has been tracking legislation related to food loss and waste and also publishes the ReFED Food Waste Policy Finder which explores current laws related to five policy areas that influence  states’ abilities to reduce food waste. This blogpost highlights recent successes as well as a variety of bills still active in state legislatures that we’re tracking closely as well as some particularly innovative and interesting bills! 

Early in 2022, Washington passed HB1799, a major food waste bill that sets forth a path for organics recycling for the next 5 years. Beginning in 2024, businesses that produce at least 8 cubic yards of organic waste per week must arrange for on site composting or organics collection. In 2025 the waste threshold decreases to include any business that produces over 4 cubic yards of organic waste per week. Businesses are encouraged to donate edible food, and the law sets a goal that at least 20 percent of edible food is recovered and donated by 2025. By 2023, municipalities with over 25,000 residents must adopt a compost procurement ordinance, which is a law that requires a local jurisdiction to purchase compost products for relevant projects like landscaping, and by 2027 these municipalities must provide biweekly curbside composting. The law also updates Washington’s liability protection for food donation to include protection for direct donation and food past the quality date and includes provisions to facilitate the siting of composting and anaerobic digestion facilities.  Congratulations to Washington for passing a strong organic waste ban (especially one that includes food donation), and we are excited to follow along as implementation ramps. 

Though still pending, Rhode Island, New York, and New Jersey legislators also proposed modifications to their organic waste bans. RI H7542 would further expand the state’s ban by adding any business located within 30 miles from a recycling facility (previously only included those located within 15 miles) and reducing the waste threshold from 104 tons per year to 52 tons per year in 2023 and to 26 tons per year in 2024. In New York, A09624 would reverse proposed residential composting rollbacks in New York City by mandating residential composting programs for any city with more than 1 million residents. Though New Jersey’s waste ban only took effect late last year, NJ S421 would modify the ban to include ambitious diversion and donation goals modeled after those recently implemented in California, including requirements to meet the goal that at least 20 percent of excess edible food that is currently sent to the landfill be recovered for human consumption by 2030.

Connecticut also passed an exciting bill beginning the process to create a required edible food donation program. CT HB5146 establishes a task force to examine the  opportunities to create a supermarket donation program or requirement for edible food, similar to those in effect in California and New York. The task force will report its findings by January 1, 2023. The bill also modifies the state’s donation liability laws to include clearer protections for supermarkets and relief organizations.

Once again we saw success with school food waste legislation. Maryland passed MD SB124, which provides grants for schools to undertake food loss and waste projects. Eligible schools can apply for grants to educate students and staff on the connection between food waste and climate change, train staff on food waste reduction and composting, and support infrastructure for reducing waste. Projects must include one of the following: transitioning to an offer-vs-serve model; planning for using surplus foods in after school programs, service the next day, share tables, or sending it home with families; serving milk from bulk containers rather than cartons; donating surplus food; or establishing other food waste reduction programs.

Despite federal liability protections that protect food donors and food recovery organizations across the nation through the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, many food manufacturers, retailers, and wholesalers cite fear of liability as a primary deterrent to donating food. States can help alleviate these fears by strengthening protections (the federal protection offers a baseline, but states can offer protection that goes beyond it) and educating food businesses. Four states Virginia, Connecticut, Washington, and Utah) successfully strengthened liability protections in 2022, including an incredible advocacy push by high school students in Virginia Beach to update Virginia’s law. Several additional states have pending bills (Delaware, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio).

Other states are encouraging food donation through enhancing or promoting tax incentives. Bills are under consideration in Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. For example, a bipartisan bill aimed at reducing food insecurity and improving farm resiliency in New York would increase the farmer donation tax credit value from 25% of the fair market value to 50%. Because farmers often operate on small margins, an increase in the tax incentive for food donations could encourage fresh produce donations. In a novel move, Illinois also has a bill to create a tax credit for investments made in the installation or operation of an anaerobic digester, incentivizing waste recycling instead of food donation.

Date labels are almost entirely unregulated under federal law, leaving a patchwork of state laws and business practices on date labels that create confusion among consumers. Massachusetts and New Jersey are both attempting to codify date labeling best practices with bills that would require standardized date labeling with separate quality and safety labels on any products sold within their respective states. Because many manufacturers sell across state lines, if passed, these bills could impact commerce beyond the states themselves.

Download a comprehensive list of state and federal bills from the current legislative session here

Explore more about existing policies on the Policy Finder here

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