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Zero Food Waste Coalition Highlights State Policy Opportunities to Reduce Food Waste 

New toolkit shares proven, actionable solutions to inspire state policymakers and advocates to reduce food waste, confront climate change, and tackle food insecurity. 

The Zero Food Waste Coalition today released Achieving Zero Food Waste: A State Policy Toolkit. Developed by the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and ReFED and announced during ReFED’s annual Food Waste Solutions Summit this week, the new toolkit highlights opportunities for state actors to accelerate their leadership on food waste reduction policy. With more and more states implementing both proven and innovative policy solutions, the toolkit draws upon the array of policies developed and piloted by these states and offers model policies for states to reduce food waste across the supply chain.  

Approximately 38% of food in the US–or 91 million tons–is unsold or uneaten annually. Households, food producers, and other businesses spend $444 billion each year to grow, process, transport, and dispose of food that is never eaten, using precious resources in the process and generating about 380 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year. At the same time, much of this food is safe and edible, yet, more than 1 in 10 Americans experienced food insecurity in 2021.  

Though the federal government can and has taken many vital steps to reduce food waste through regulations and funding, state governments have unique policy options at their disposal. The Zero Food Waste Coalition’s Toolkit was designed to provide state policymakers and advocates with examples of real-world policy options that address food waste along with an array of intersecting challenges, such as climate change, financial responsibility, food rescue, local farm viability, and more. Specifically, the toolkit explores 15 policies across the following six categories: 

  • Building and Broadening Organic Waste Bans 
  • Opportunities to Promote Food Donation 
  • Supporting Organic Waste Processing Infrastructure 
  • Developing End Markets for Compost 
  • Preventing Food Waste Upstream 
  • Other Governmental Action  

“State leaders have proven that food waste reduction policies, from banning organic waste from landfills to promoting food donation to developing markets for compost, are effective and necessary for our environment, economy, and people,” said Emily Broad Leib, Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and Faculty Director of FLPC. “States have developed a suite of actionable policy options that address local challenges through rigorous experimentation. There is significant opportunity for other states and the federal government to replicate and scale up these policies to help alleviate food insecurity, reduce environmental harm, and build a more sustainable food system for our future.” 

“As we approach the final stretch in the U.S. goal to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030, every level of government, from the White House to the State House to City Hall, needs to replicate and accelerate successful measures to reduce food waste,” said Andrea Collins, Senior Specialist, Sustainable Food Systems at NRDC. “The models in this toolkit will remove initial barriers for state legislators and changemakers across the country to advance the most effective solutions within their own communities. Our neighborhoods, our economy, and the climate will all benefit from stronger policies to reduce food waste in every statehouse across the country.” 

“State legislation is where food waste policy can really flex its muscles, because that’s where they’re actually implemented and where the benefits can be seen firsthand,” said Dana Gunders, Executive Director of ReFED. “This toolkit is a great way to share learnings from the states and to help demonstrate the power of policy as a food waste solution. We’re excited to see what its impact will be.” 

“Reducing food waste is a global issue that requires state and community engagement. States can lead the way with policies that keep food and organic resources out of landfills, develop new markets for upcycling food resources, and educate youth and consumers on wasting less,” said Pete Pearson, Global Initiative Lead of Food Waste at WWF. “By learning from one another, states can accelerate their own progress towards addressing the environmental, social, and economic impacts of food waste. The Zero Food Waste Coalition conveniently provides bi-partisan policy guidance that will help create a more resilient food system.”  

States are at the cutting edge of efforts to divert food waste from landfills through a combination of policy, funding, encouragement, and education. For the US to achieve its goal of cutting food waste in half by 2030, it is crucial for states with policies like these to build on them and for other states to adopt them. 

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