U.S. Efforts to Reach Our National Goal of Reducing Food Loss and Waste

By Jane Nishida, Acting Assistant Administrator, Office of International and Tribal Affairs, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

These remarks were delivered at the Champions 12.3 side event held on May 25, 2016, at the second session of the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya. You can view her full PowerPoint presentation here.

Good afternoon, everyone.  I’d like to first thank the event organizers for the invitation to address this group and the opportunity to share experiences from the United States on reducing food loss and waste.  I know many of you have excellent work underway in this area, and I look forward to learning from you all today.

On behalf of Gina McCarthy, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and a founding Champion of 12.3, it is my pleasure to participate in this event and dialogue.  Much of the work I will share with you includes the effort of one of our key partners, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is also represented in Champions 12.3.

EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment.   We strive to ensure that there is safe water – safe air – clean land – healthy homes, schools, and workplaces for our families and children.

Fundamental to EPA’s mission is safeguarding the natural systems and resources Americans depend upon every day.

Communicating with all of you and other environment leaders on the importance of reducing food loss and waste is indeed one of our top priorities for our participation in the UNEA.

While the U.S. government has been active in reducing food waste for more than 20 years, the timing of our actions is increasingly urgent.  Over the past three decades, food has become the largest source of material sent for disposal in the United States, estimated at over 70 billion pounds each year.  This results in environmental, social, and economic costs for all of us.

We estimate that, currently in the United States, more than 31 percent of edible food goes to waste.

As you see, food waste is the largest waste stream going to landfills in the US, accounting for 21 percent of the American waste stream and contributing to climate change as food waste in landfills decomposes and generates methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas.

We also consider the resources that went into producing this large amount of wasted food.

These are troubling numbers, and even more so when we consider the larger social implications of wasting wholesome, nutritious food. Today, in the United States, 48 million Americans, of which roughly 7.9 million are children, live in homes without reliable access to food.

In terms of costs to our economy, it is estimated that at the retail and consumer levels in the United States, the value of food loss and waste totals $161 billion dollars.

On September 16, 2015, in alignment with Target 12.3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), EPA and the USDA announced the first ever domestic national goal to reduce food loss and waste by half by the year 2030. By taking action on the 2030 food loss and waste reduction goal, the United States can help feed the hungry, save money for families and businesses, and protect the environment.

Led by USDA and EPA, the federal government will work with communities, organizations and businesses along with our partners in state, tribal and local government to reduce food loss and waste by 50 percent over the next 15 years.  Using the available data from both EPA and USDA, 2010 was selected as a baseline for measuring our progress.   We’ve been encouraged so far by the initial outpouring of support for the goal, and the great number of emerging partners that have been mobilized to work with us.

As I mentioned, the U.S. government has been working on this this issue for some time, led by key efforts from the EPA and our U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This Food Recovery Hierarchy is a major guiding framework for our approach to reducing wasted food and food waste.  As illustrated in the slides, the Hierarchy identifies management approaches for wasted food — from most to least preferred and includes unique considerations for food.  As you can see, the most preferred response to reducing food waste is source reduction, followed by recovery of wasted food donation, and food waste recycling options.

USEPA’s Recovery Challenge, started in 2011, provides technical assistance and recognition to institutional partners who commit to food waste reduction goals and report results. Through the program, nearly 90 tons of food across the U.S. were donated, and more than 600,000 tons of food were diverted from entering landfills.  In 2013, EPA and USDA joined together to launch the U.S. Food Waste Challenge to disseminate information about the best practices to reduce, recover, and recycle food waste.

The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act encourages food donations by protecting donors from liability when they donate to a non-profit organization, and protecting donors from civil and criminal liability should the product donated in good faith later cause harm to the recipient.

The Obama Administration has revised and consolidated into a new Executive Order sustainability in federal facility operations and public procurement.  This Order on “Planning for Federal Sustainability” includes a goal to “divert at least 50 percent of non-hazardous solid waste, including food and compostable waste.”

Our U.S. Tax Code also encourages donations by allowing corporations to earn an enhanced tax deduction for donating selected surplus property, including food.

The labeling of food is another area that we are exploring with partners at the Food and Drug Administration, and other organizations.

As a first step toward achieving the 2030 Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal, we have increased our engagement with community organizations, local governments, businesses, and our government partners.

Last November, EPA supported a national Summit to bring together a diverse group of stakeholders representing different areas of the food system.

This Summit has started a national dialogue with key stakeholders to help EPA and USDA and our partners better understand current barriers and opportunities to achieve the 2030 goal.  Based on this meeting, EPA and USDA will soon be releasing a new living document online called the “Call to Action by Stakeholders” which outlines key strategies and proven practices to reduce wasted food across all sectors of the food system.

Our hope is to have the U.S. government, in partnership with the many stakeholders in the food system, including producers, manufacturers, retailers, non-profits and food advocacy groups, faith organizations as well as leaders from state, tribal, and local government, join in using the Call to Action as an opportunity to further individual and collective actions on preventing food waste.

The slides identify a number of priority action areas identified at our initial Food Recovery Summit and further stakeholder engagement.

We plan to build upon the Charleston summit with a series of additional events around the United States.  Our next summit, a conference to “Reduce and Recover: Save Food for People” will be held next month at Harvard University, and will feature opportunities for working groups on each of these activity areas to meet to define priorities and initiate agendas for action.

Of course, government cannot act alone in all of this.  There is a burgeoning array of exciting and innovative efforts already underway among many actors and stakeholders.

To name but a few examples, the Food Waste Reduction Alliance combines the expertise and access available from manufacturers, grocers, food services and restaurant sectors to reduce food waste and is led by an alliance of leading industry associations for these sectors.  Their work also includes collaboration with Feeding America, the largest food-banking network in the U.S.

The Food Recovery Network promoted university campus-based food recovery and donation.  Its nearly 200 chapters in 42 U.S. states have covered over 1.3 million pounds of food since 2011.

Another multi-stakeholder initiative known as ReFED has recently released an important piece of analysis, which demonstrates the cost effectiveness of 27 key technical interventions in food waste reduction, recovery, and recycling, and which serves as a data-driven guide for businesses, government, funders, and nonprofits to collectively reduce food waste at scale.

The U.S. Ad Council and the Natural Resources Defense Council have just launched a new major public service campaign, called Save the Food.

As you can imagine, we are very pleased to collaborate with these stakeholders where appropriate, and many more, as we work toward our goal for the year 2030.

As for our international efforts, as you may know, the U.S. is pleased to have put forth a resolution on the topic of food waste, to build awareness among environmental ministers and encourage action that addresses the unique challenges and opportunities of dealing with uneaten food.

EPA and USDA also provide input into global initiatives, such as the Food Loss and Waste Standard and Protocol, and collaborate with environment ministry partners in Mexico and Canada to support reducing food waste through the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation.  Food waste reduction has also been identified as a new area of collaboration in a newly released communique from the G7 Environment Ministers Meeting.

And, of course, we look forward to cooperating with many of you, in continuation of our efforts to mobilize action to reduce food loss and waste as a representative of EPA Administrator McCarthy, a founding Champion of 12.3 and our further cooperation with UNEP.

Thank you for your interest in learning more about U.S. efforts to reach our national goal of reducing food loss and waste.  I look forward to the presentations from my fellow panelists, and encourage you to reach out to all EPA staff here on the ground at UNEA to ensure the dialogue continues.  In the meantime, I wish you all a very productive week.