US EPA Releases New Food Waste Reports
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released two new reports quantifying methane emissions from landfilled food waste and updating recommendations for managing wasted food.
Over one-third of the food produced in the United States is never eaten, wasting the resources used to produce, transport, process, and distribute it – and much of it is sent to landfills, where it breaks down and generates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
“Wasted food is a major environmental, social, and economic challenge,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “These reports provide decision-makers with important data on the climate impacts of food waste through landfill methane emissions and highlight the urgent need to keep food out of landfills.”
The reports’ findings emphasise the importance of both reducing the amount of food that is wasted and managing its disposal in more environmentally friendly ways. Based on these findings, EPA is releasing an update to its Food Recovery Hierarchy, a tool to help decision makers, such as state and local governments, understand the best options for managing food waste in terms of environmental impacts.
The release of the new ranking – called the Wasted Food Scale – marks the first update since the 1990s, reflecting more recent technological advances and changes in operational practices. EPA’s research confirms that preventing food from being wasted in the first place, or source reduction, is still the most environmentally beneficial approach. Evidence in these reports suggests that efforts should focus on ensuring less food is wasted so that food waste is diverted from landfills, which will reduce environmental impacts.
The research announced today represents the first time EPA has quantified methane emissions from landfilling. This novel work published modeled estimates of annual methane emissions released into the atmosphere from landfilled food waste, giving a cost of landfilling food waste in terms of the impact on climate change. EPA conducted an analysis to estimate annual methane emissions from landfilled food waste from 1990 to 2020 and found that while total emissions from municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills are decreasing, methane emissions from landfilled food waste are increasing. These estimates indicate that diverting food waste from landfills is an effective way to reduce methane emissions, a powerful greenhouse gas, from MSW landfills.
The new EPA reports include:
• “From Field to Bin: The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste Management Pathways,” which examines the environmental impacts of disposing of food waste. This report synthesises the latest science on the environmental impacts of how food waste is commonly managed in the U.S.
This report completes the analysis that began in the 2021 companion report, “From Farm to Kitchen: The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste ,” which analyzed the environmental footprint of food waste in the farm-to-consumer supply chain.
• “Quantifying Methane Emissions from Landfilled Food Waste” represents the first time EPA has published modelled estimates of annual methane emissions released into the atmosphere from landfilled food waste. More food reaches MSW landfills than any other material, but its contribution to landfill methane emissions has not been previously quantified.