A Call to Action on
US Food Loss & Waste Policy

1- Invest in Prevention and Keep Waste out of Landfills

Food is the single largest input by weight into US landfills and incinerators, where it causes social and environmental harm. Investing in infrastructure and programs that measure and prevent waste, incentivize rescue of surplus and safe excess food, and keep it out of landfills will help achieve climate gains, improve our country's soils, boost profits for farmers, and feed more people. As Congress and the administration consider priority investments in US infrastructure and economic recovery, they should expand investments in and incentives for waste prevention, measurement, donation, waste-to-animal feed, organics recycling, composting, and anaerobic digestion. The stated objective of these investments should be to measure, rescue, recycle, and prevent 50% of organic waste from entering landfills and incinerators by 2030. Expanding food waste management infrastructure has the highest potential of any FLW solution to generate new jobs (an estimated 18,000 jobs annually through 2030). This infrastructure can also reduce the country’s annual emissions by 5.8 MMTCO2e,10 return nutrients to degraded soils on American farms and public lands, and boost profitability for American farmers and ranchers. Most importantly, diversion from landfills and incinerators coupled with better measurement can accelerate FLW prevention. The US EPA’s Food Waste Hierarchy prioritizes source reduction and practices that ensure surplus food is fed to hungry people before organics recycling efforts. Most successful organic waste management policies include provisions, funding, or technical assistance to measure FLW, prevent food from becoming waste, and incentivize rescue of surplus food.

Policy Recommendations

  • Offer Funding for States and Cities that Incentivizes Organic Waste Measurement, Rescue, Recycling, and Prevention

    (Congress, Administration)

    Provide annual funding through 2030 to support state- and city-level investment in infrastructure and other costs associated with implementing plans for organic waste measurement, rescue, recycling, and prevention that meet pre-defined quality standards. California has implemented a leading model for its jurisdictions and already invested $140 million in organic waste infrastructure funding. Policy options for states and cities looking to follow a similar model include organic waste landfill bans or organic waste recycling requirements; mandated food scrap recycling; Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) policies that disincentivize landfilling and incineration as opposed to recycling and composting organics; a landfill tax per unit of trash added to the existing tipping fee; and policies that stimulate demand for compost or promote organic waste prevention and food rescue. Organic waste bans have shown particular promise in reducing food waste in landfills—with a demonstrated impact in food waste prevention, donation, and recycling. For example, Vermont saw food donation triple after implementing its organic waste ban, and Massachusetts documented a 22% increase in donation. To accelerate the widespread adoption of these strategies and build the nation’s organic waste recycling infrastructure, the administration and Congress should provide $650 million in annual funding for states and cities through at least 2030.

  • Require the Development of Food Waste Measurement Planning and Transparency

    (Congress, EPA)

    As the saying goes, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Today, state- and city-level waste characterization studies are conducted periodically (typically every five years), with few requirements for waste haulers and businesses to regularly report waste generation data publicly. High-quality organic waste measurement, rescue, recycling, and prevention plans by cities and states should include a strategy to aggregate, anonymize, and publicly report monthly or quarterly waste generation data through centralized databases like the ReFED Insights Engine. This reporting will introduce much-needed transparency and establish more timely monitoring of organic waste generation. The data can then be used by states and cities to develop detailed plans for organic waste recycling infrastructure requirements and prevention strategies and to track their progress.

  • Build Demand for Compost

    (USDA, Congress)

    In parallel with the efforts to divert organic waste to compost instead of landfills, policymakers should help stimulate demand for finished compost products. This should include updating the USDA’s definition of compost products so that a greater number of potential buyers (such as farms, golf courses, or other operations near waterways) are encouraged to purchase compost; developing a marketing campaign to build compost demand; and streamlining the compost contracting process (e.g., by helping to match compost generators with potential buyers). Congress should reauthorize and expand appropriations for the recent Community Compost and Food Waste Reduction pilot projects, authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill, through which the USDA invested $1 million into 13 projects to develop and implement municipal compost and food waste reduction strategies—with an emphasis on making compost accessible to farmers.

  • Fund Development of Public-Private Partnerships


    Public-private sector partnerships can accelerate food waste reduction, with an estimated 80:1 return. The Pacific Coast Collaborative’s West Coast Voluntary Agreement to Reduce Wasted Food and NRDC’s Food Matters project show how cities, states, and businesses can work together pre-competitively to share best practices, discuss common-sense policymaking, and address shared sustainability challenges around FLW.  Congress should allocate $50 million in funding for cities and states to apply to develop these partnerships, which could be managed through the federal interagency effort to reduce food waste.

  • Eliminate Barriers to Feeding Food Scraps to Animals

    (USDA, FDA)

    Many restaurants, grocery stores, food manufacturers, and small and large farms produce food scraps that are no longer suitable for human consumption but are still safe and wholesome for animals. To support more uniformity and science-based regulations on this process, FDA and USDA should provide guidance and technical assistance to states on optimal regulations regarding feeding food scraps to animals, which state governments can use to review and eliminate any overly stringent restrictions or bans in place today.