The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Oct. 19 released new reports regarding the impact of methane emissions from food waste. Many states have passed regulations to address methane emissions. These regulations include — among other things — waste collection programs so food waste does not end up in landfills.
Over one-third of the food produced in the United States is not consumed. When the food waste is sent to landfills, it generates methane gas. Methane gas is a major contributor to global warming so regulation of methane through waste-collection programs is a step toward managing climate change based on higher temperatures. Methane gas is a greenhouse gas that has a significant impact on the Earth’s temperatures and climate systems. However, methane gas is short lived compared to carbon dioxide. Because of the short-lived nature of this gas, a significant reduction in methane gas would also have a significant effect in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The latest reports from the EPA underscore the need for both the reduction of food waste and a change in its disposal. The first report released from the EPA quantified the methane emissions from landfilled food waste. This report marks the first time the EPA has analyzed this issue – and it is the first peer-reviewed national study on this amount of methane emissions from food waste. This study determined that 58 percent of the methane emissions from municipal landfills is caused by food waste. Furthermore, 61 percent of the methane generated by landfilled food waste is not captured by landfill gas-collection systems, releasing it into the atmosphere. This is because the food waste decays quickly, causing emissions before the gas collection systems are installed or expanded. The study also found that while total emissions from municipal solid waste landfills are decreasing, methane emissions from food waste are increasing. Had landfill food waste been reduced by 50 percent in 2015, landfill methane emissions could have been reduced by 77 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents by 2020.
The second report released by the EPA is titled “From Field to Bin: The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste Pathways.” This report analyzed the environmental impacts of different methods to manage wasted food. The report developed a new ranking scale for these methods and replaces the agency’s Food Recovery Hierarchy developed in the 1990’s. The new scale reflects the latest science and practices in managing food waste. The most preferred method is preventing wasted food in the first place, by only buying and serving what is needed. The other methods to manage food waste include donating or upcycling; feeding animals or leaving it unharvested; and compost or anaerobic digestion. Sending food waste down the drain, putting it in landfills, or burning it are the least favored options.
The EPA hopes that these latest reports will support their future efforts to reduce food waste and the methane gases it causes. The EPA already has guidance on its website to help individuals and businesses prevent wasted food at home. Further, in 2015, the EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture set a Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal to cut food loss by 50 percent by 2030. These latest reports are part of this initiative and will assist the EPA and the USDA’s work with state partners to reach this goal.
About the Author
Rosie Badgett is an accomplished litigator who concentrates her practice on toxic tort, asbestos litigation, product liability, general litigation, and environmental law matters. Rosie represents manufacturers of stucco and drywall products, flooring, gaskets, automotive parts, and airplanes, and has been second chair of five critical asbestos trials.