In 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set a national goal of cutting food loss and waste 50% by the year 2030. In terms of time, 2023 marks the halfway point. In terms of progress, there is still much to be done. In the United States, approximately 38% of all food goes unsold or uneaten, and the vast majority – 80 million tons – ends up going to waste destinations. Policymakers are increasingly moving forward laws aimed at reducing this food waste in line with the national goal. They are also increasingly recognizing how food waste policies can be deployed to address some of the most significant challenges facing our country today, like climate change and food insecurity, while also creating economic value.
As we mark the national goal’s halfway point, we see state lawmakers proposing and adopting a range of policies to prevent food waste, promote the recovery and redistribution of food that would otherwise go to waste, and increase the amount of food scraps that are recycled into animal feed or compost, or used for energy generation. To help stay abreast of developments in the policy landscape, ReFED and the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic partner to update and maintain the Food Waste Policy Finder, an online resource that allows users to explore legislative and regulatory food waste policies at the federal, state, and local levels.
Thus far in 2023, state legislatures have introduced nearly 90 unique bills related to food waste – 22 of which have become law. While 22 different states introduced food waste legislation, Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, and New Jersey led the states, with all three having proposed seven or more bills addressing food waste. The top three policy areas for introduced legislation in 2023 have been: 1) tax incentives for food donations; 2) state grant funding or other investments in food waste reduction, food recovery, or recycling; and 3) waste reduction, for example, setting waste diversion goals. In terms of enacted legislation, at least three bills were passed in each of the following categories: state grant funding or other investments in food waste reduction, food recovery, or recycling; school food waste programs; and tax incentives for food donations. Fifty-three bills related to food waste are still pending, with 11 of these bills poised to incentivize food donations, 10 to promote food waste reduction, seven to implement food waste disposal bans, and five to provide state grant funding or other investments in food waste reduction, food recovery, or recycling. Some highlights of the enacted laws include:
- New Hampshire joined states like Connecticut, Massachusetts, Washington, and California in enacting an organic waste ban set to take effect on February 1, 2025. Entities generating more than one ton of food waste per week will be prohibited from sending it to landfills if there is an authorized alternative facility with capacity to manage food waste within 20 miles. Food waste generators will also be required to prioritize diverting food for human consumption, followed by diversion to animal feed; then composting, digestion, or land application; and lastly energy recovery.
- Connecticut expanded the scope of its organic waste ban beginning January 2025 to cover public and private institutions, such as those providing health care or educational services and correctional facilities, that produce more than 26 tons of source-separated organic waste annually. Connecticut’s organic waste ban already applies to commercial food wholesalers or distributors, industrial food manufacturers or processors, supermarkets, resorts, and conference centers producing this level of waste. The recently passed bill will also eliminate the exemption from source-separation requirements for those facilities that are more than 20 miles away from authorized composting facilities in January 2025.
- Tax incentives for food donations had either expired or were set to expire in Maryland and Virginia. Not only did both states renew their laws incentivizing food donations, but they also increased incentives. In Maryland, farms that donate fresh farm products for human consumption are eligible for tax credits equal to the wholesale food value up to $5,000 per tax year. Virginia reenacted its expired tax incentive and now offers farmers a tax credit for up to half the donated food’s fair market value, capped at $10,000 per tax year.
- Nebraska, which previously did not offer a tax incentive for food donations beyond that provided by federal incentives, now offers state-level tax incentives. Grocery stores, restaurants, and agricultural producers that donate Nebraska grown fresh or frozen fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy products, or meat products may apply for an income tax credit equal to 50% of the value of the food donated, up to $2,500 annually.
- Maryland passed a bill requiring its Green Purchasing Committee to draft compost procurement requirements that state agencies must include in bid solicitations. The law, which will take effect in October 2023, is intended to help create end markets for compost, including compost made from food waste.
- Under a bill passed this year, by July 1, 2025, New Mexico schools will be required to reduce food waste by ensuring that students have sufficient time to eat and by providing share tables, where students, staff, and parents can return food for others to eat. Along the same lines, Washington passed a bill encouraging its schools to schedule lunch before recess in an effort to reduce school food waste.
We’re excited to see what the second half of 2023 offers in terms of food waste policy developments and look forward to tracking the 53 bills that remain pending – as well as any others introduced later this year. With each bill that passes, policymakers create the environment to bring our country incrementally closer to meeting our goal of cutting food waste in half by 2030 and addressing climate change, improving food insecurity, and increasing economic productivity and efficiency.
Download a comprehensive list of state and federal bills from the current legislative session here.
Explore more about existing food waste reduction policies on the Policy Finder.