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Frequent Questions about Sustainable Food Management and the Food Recovery Challenge

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Sustainable Food Management

What is Sustainable Food Management?

Through a Sustainable Food Management (SFM) approach, EPA is helping change the way our society protects the environment and conserves resources for future generations. Building on the familiar concept of " Reduce, Reuse, Recycle", SFM is a systematic approach that seeks to reduce wasted food and its associated environmental impacts over the entire lifecycle, starting with extraction of natural resources and manufacturing, sales and consumption, and ending with decisions on recycling or final disposal. This approach changes how we think about environmental protection and recognizes the impacts of the food we waste.

Food Recovery Challenge

Image of the Food Recovery pie chart

Food recovery prevents food waste through improved purchasing practices, collection of wholesome food for distribution to the hungry, or diversion of food that is not suitable for human consumption to composting or animal feed. EPA's Food Recovery Hierarchy outlines the options for handling food from most preferred (top) to least preferred (bottom).

Learn more with Putting Surplus Food to Good Use: A How-To Guide for Food Service Providers (PDF) (2 pp, 213.95 k) which helps food service providers start food waste reduction and recovery programs at their facilities.

Why is food recovery important?

In 2012, Americans generated nearly 35 million tons of food waste, 95 percent of which was thrown away into landfills or incinerators. It is the most prevalent material reaching landfills.

The most effective way to both save money and reduce the environmental impact of food waste is prevention. Preventing food waste through source reduction not only reduces the environmental impact from its disposal, but also from its production, manufacturing, packaging, and transportation. Fourteen percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States are associated with the provision of food (PDF) (98 pp, 1.57 MB), so preventing food waste can have a large impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Food recovery can also provide much needed wholesome food to individuals in our communities through donation. In 2013, 14.3 percent of households in the United States did not have access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members (source USDA).

Food scraps can also be composted. Using composted food scraps directly on the soil improves soil health and structure, increases drought resistance, and minimizes the need for supplemental water, fertilizers, and pesticides. Managing food scraps in this manner has both economic and environmental benefits. It avoids disposal in landfills, thus saving money in tipping (disposal) fees and avoids the production of methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

What is the Food Recovery Challenge?

Organizations participate in EPA's Food Recovery Challenge by pledging to improve their sustainable food management practices and report their results. By reducing the amount of food sent to landfills, an organization can save money, reduce its environmental footprint, and support its community by feeding hungry people. As a participant, EPA will provide organizations with technical assistance and recognition for their achievements.

How does my organization benefit from joining the Food Recovery Challenge?

Your organization can:

How can I learn more or join the Food Recovery Challenge?

For more information on the Food Recovery Challenge, you can visit the website.

Reduce and Reuse

How can I prevent food waste?

The best way to eliminate food waste is to not create it in the first place. In addition to being a money saver, this practice also minimizes the upstream environmental impacts associated with food production, manufacturing, and transportation. Food service operators should closely examine how much food is wasted both in the kitchen and at the table.

Industry estimates that 4% to 10% of food is discarded before ever reaching a guest. If you purchase $1 million dollars worth of food annually, that can be up to $100,000 of your purchases going into the trash! In order to reduce kitchen waste, facilities can closely track their food waste, change purchasing habits, train employees to ensure proper and efficient preparation, and ensure proper storage.

Reducing plate waste, can also significantly decrease the amount of food sent to landfills. For example, cafeterias can go "trayless" and use only plates. Removing trays has been shown to minimize food purchasing by up to 30 percent because students are less inclined to take more than they can eat.

Please visit Food Waste Reduction to find additional recommendations and tools on how to prevent food waste.

How will preventing food waste save money?

Less food in the trash can save you money in several ways:

Food Donation

Where can I donate edible food?

Food banks typically accept food donations that are packaged or can be stored for a period of time. Food rescue programs redistribute unused or uneaten foods that are perishable, such as produce, dairy items, or other hot meals from caterers, grocers, restaurants, cafeterias, and venues.

EPA, in conjunction with the US Department of Agriculture, developed a comprehensive guide detailing what businesses and individuals can do to ensure good food doesn't go to waste. Waste Not/Want Not: Feeding the Hungry and Reducing Solid Waste Through Food Recovery (PDF) (59 pp, 1.44 MB, about PDFs)helps explain how any state or municipality, as well as any private business that deals with food, can reduce its solid waste by facilitating the donation of wholesome surplus food according to the food hierarchy.

Please visit Food Donation to find recommendations and tools on how to donate wholesome, edible food.

Is my company liable for the product once it has been donated?

The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (PDF) (2 pp, 206.63 K, about PDFs) was created to encourage the donation of food and grocery products to 501(c)3 certified non-profit organizations. Under this Act, as long as the donor has not acted with negligence or intentional misconduct, the company is not liable for damage incurred as the result of illness.

What is the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act and who does it protect?

The Good Samaritan Act (PDF) (2 pp, 206.63 K, about PDFs) encourages the donation of food and grocery products to 501(c)3 non-profit organizations for distribution to needy individuals. The law protects all food and grocery donors who donate apparently wholesome food in good-faith from civil and criminal liability. The Emerson Act also provides uniform federal protection and replaces all state laws, including those in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and all US territories and possessions. Under the national law, food donors need only seek protection under one law.

The law protects all food and grocery donors, including individuals, corporations, partnerships, associations, governmental entities, wholesalers, manufacturers, retailers, farmers, gleaners and non-profit feeding program administrators who donate food and grocery products in good faith. While exceptions are noted for gross negligence, the law states that these groups will not be subject to civil or criminal liability arising from the nature, age, packaging or condition of apparently wholesome food or an apparently fit grocery product.

The Emerson Act provides protection for food and grocery products that meet all quality labeling standards imposed by federal, state and local laws and regulations. This includes products that may not be readily marketable due to age, appearance, freshness, grade, size, surplus or other conditions. Grocery products can include non-food products, such as disposable paper or plastic products, household cleaning products, laundry detergent, personal care items, or miscellaneous household items.

Can I receive tax benefits from donating food?

Food donations can add up to big savings for the donors. Not only will you reduce your waste disposal costs, but donations can also generate significant tax benefits for businesses.

For more information, please go to:

Feeding Animals

What regulations exist for sending food scraps to animal feed?

A number of states have regulations regarding use of food scraps for animal feed. There are currently no federal regulations. Some states ban food donation for animal feed. Others regulate what food can be donated, usually vegetative waste (no meat or dairy). The regulations may also require specific handling processes in order to donate to animal feedstock. Prior to sending food scraps to animal feed, consult state regulations and contact your local solid waste agency or public health agency for guidance on any local permit requirements.

Composting and Other Beneficial Uses

Do I need a permit to compost food scraps on-site?

It depends on the type and volume of food being composted. Prior to starting a compost operation, consult current state composting regulations and contact your local solid waste agency for guidance on any local permit requirements.

How can a large generator (e.g. restaurant or grocer) compost food scraps?

For commercial and institutional food generators (e.g., food processors, grocery stores, restaurants, and institutions), composting food scraps can greatly reduce waste collection and disposal costs. Some food generators are able to compost on-site; however, for those not able to compost on-site there are resources available to help them find a commercial operation in their area.

To learn more about the ways food scraps are composted visit the Composting page.

How can I find a compost hauler?

Contact your local public works or solid waste department to learn about haulers in your area.

If there is not a local composter in my area, what can I do to reduce my food waste?

If you don't have a local composter, try to first reduce wasted food using source reduction techniques or donating to those in need. Using a pulper can reduce the bulk of food waste by removing water content, thus reducing the amount of material being hauled away. Additionally, if you have the space, you can compost on-site using windrows or contained composting systems (in-vessel composters). More information on different types of composting systems can be found on the Composting page.

What is "anaerobic digestion"?

Anaerobic digestion is a process in which microorganisms break down organic materials, such as food scraps, manure, and sewage sludge, in the absence of oxygen. Anaerobic digestion produces biogas and a solid residual. Biogas, made primarily of methane and carbon dioxide, can be used as a source of energy similar to natural gas. The solid residual can be land applied or composted and used as a soil amendment. The benefits of anaerobic digestion include renewable energy generation, greenhouse gas emissions reduction, waste diversion, and richer soil.

Learn more by visiting the anaerobic digestion page.


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