With funding provided through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, EPA is developing a pair of grant programs that have the potential to significantly improve progress toward our goal. nation to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. The first program focuses on improving the effectiveness of residential and community recycling programs through education and public awareness, while the second grant program covers solid waste infrastructure for recycling.
The agency has engaged in several listening sessions and asks stakeholders for information on local needs, best practices and models to consider in developing the programs. The NRDC considers four elements to be an important part of grant program effectiveness.
I. Recycling infrastructure grant programs should include food scraps and other organic materials
Food is the largest component of landfills nationwide – contributing more than 36 million tons to landfills each year and accounting for 24% of municipal solid waste going to landfill. In order to achieve zero waste and climate goals at the municipal, state, and federal levels, food scraps (as well as other organic materials) must be managed separately from other materials in the municipal solid waste stream. Even with the best efforts to prevent food from becoming waste, there will always be inedible parts of food that will need to be recycled. Recycling food waste has the potential to divert 20.9 million tonnes of materials from landfills and prevent 4.94 million metric tonnes of CO2e of climate pollution from entering the atmosphere per year, as well as producing a net financial benefit of $239.7 million per year. Currently, there are over 5,000 composting facilities nationwide, but only about 500 facilities accept food scraps. Investments are needed to support current composting operations to accept and process food scraps, as well as to build new facilities at all scales and add or expand organics collection. Any federal grant program to support recycling infrastructure should include organics recycling and explicitly include food scraps as an eligible material.
Preventing and recycling organic waste, including food scraps, also helps alleviate important environmental justice considerations associated with landfills and incinerators. Nearly 80% of incinerators in the United States are located in chronically underfunded communities, where the majority of residents are black, indigenous or other people of color, resulting in environmental degradation, negative impacts on health and other burdens. In order to address longstanding inequities, communities of color that have suffered environmental justice impacts should be prioritized in funding provided to support food waste collection, recycling, and other materials management efforts. At the same time, although composting facilities have fewer harmful environmental impacts than landfills or incinerators, waste management facilities (including organics recycling facilities) should not be disproportionately located in communities of color. To avoid this, one of the grant requirements should be the development of a site plan that incorporates significant community participation. The plan should include an assessment of potential loads on the surrounding community and corresponding actions to address them.
II. Grant programs should fund assessments, planning efforts and policies
Proper planning is the first step to a successful infrastructure project, one that will work for the communities it serves over the long term, whether through assessment, planning, or other mechanism. Through the work of NRDC’s Food Matters, we’ve helped the cities of Denver and Baltimore conduct food waste recycling assessments and have seen the importance of these feasibility studies in determining what composting infrastructure will best serve the community. . The assessments informed city work plans and helped prioritize future actions. For example, based on the assessment, the City of Denver is exploring how to get more composting infrastructure and recently passed a new law making recycling and composting collection free, but establishing a monthly fee for collection of waste destined for landfill. Any grant funding should include support for assessments and other planning efforts in addition to facility upgrades and new development of treatment facilities or collection infrastructure.
Additionally, state and local policies such as organic waste bans, waste diversion requirements, landfill taxes, pay-as-you-go policies, and permit effectiveness have been shown to stimulate the recycling of food waste, in addition to expanding food rescue and creating new jobs. . Recycling infrastructure is essential to support the implementation of these policies, but the planning and evaluation processes needed to implement these policies effectively are costly. In addition to facility planning efforts, this grant program is expected to make funds available to state, local and tribal governments to plan or implement proven policies that reduce food waste in landfills and incinerators through the recycling organic materials and preventing waste.
III. Grants should support infrastructure at different scales
Not all organics recycling infrastructure needs to be concentrated on an industrial scale; some communities may be better served by locally directed community-scale compost processing at sites such as urban gardens, schools, farmers’ markets and other regional food hubs. Additionally, maintaining the collection and processing of food waste locally and on a smaller scale can limit potential negative environmental impacts, such as greenhouse gas emissions related to transporting waste. Subsidies should be made available to small collectors and processors for the purchase of land, materials, labour, transport and other operational needs.
Awarding a grant should also consider whether the management method (composting or anaerobic digestion) will utilize the materials for their highest and best ecological use. Anaerobic Digestion (AD) is not always the best technology for treating a particular organic waste stream, depending on whether or not the raw material has been source separated and how the end products (digestate) are treated. The choice of AD over composting or other options should consider whether nutrients will be preserved or lost (e.g. if AD digestate is landfilled after energy extraction, then nutrients are lost), and how to maximize the potential of organic matter to contribute to soil health by being turned into a soil amendment.
IV. Grant funding should also support waste prevention, awareness and educational materials
Education is essential to the success of recycling operations. The best planned projects can be underutilized if the community does not know about them and projects can fail if the community does not know how to properly participate. For example, plastic contamination in food waste streams continues to be an issue for processors, often resulting from residents and businesses putting the wrong materials into compost collection. Community education is essential to ensure that residents participate appropriately and therefore materials can be managed properly.
Education and awareness should also prioritize waste prevention. The greatest environmental, economic, and social benefits of reducing food waste are associated with reducing or preventing food from turning into waste, which is reflected in the EPA’s Food Waste Management Hierarchy emphasizing the need for source reduction before all other management strategies. Food waste prevention and recycling education and awareness materials can build on many existing resources. For example, the 2020 report of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine A national strategy to reduce food waste at the consumer level makes several recommendations relevant to the EPA grant program. This grant program should make funds available for education and awareness projects, and if beyond the scope of this grant, all grant applications should be required to include an education and awareness plan that includes prevention.
In conclusion, the NRDC sees a great opportunity to address issues related to climate and environmental justice through better management of food scraps in the Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling program. With this critical funding, the EPA can ensure that food waste nationwide is better avoided and more food scraps are recycled into nutrient-rich soil amendments rather than generating greenhouse gases and pollutants. other harmful pollutants when landfilled or incinerated. Increasing our ability to properly manage food scraps is essential to achieving zero waste and climate goals, such as our national goal to reduce food waste by 50% by 2050, as well as providing other environmental, economic and social benefits. social.