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Food Waste Recovery Hierarchy - EPA

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Sustainable Food Management division created a Food Waste Hierarchy to prioritize actions and strategies for food service industries. And it's needed, in 2014 over 38 million tons of wasted food were thrown away in the United States! This hierarchy breaks down how this can be greatly reduced through a spectrum of prevention and secondary uses.

Courtesy of EPA: https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/food-recovery-hierarchy

The inverted hierarchy begins with showing the best ways of preventing and diverting food waste from landfill and moves down to the "Least Preferred" options. The levels are listed below (excluding landfill of course!) with some brief explanation of each:

Source Reduction
The Source Reduction resource page begins with explaining the benefits of reducing food waste to society and for businesses, with some specifics of how businesses can get started, followed by short case studies of Quicken Loans, Hannaford Supermarkets, and the University of Texas at Austin.


Feed Hungry People
In 2016 the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that "approximately 13% of households had difficulty providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources at some time during 2015". Meanwhile food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply. The USDA’s Economic Research Service estimates that 31% food loss is at the retail and consumer levels, which is approximately 133 billion pounds or $161 billion worth of food in 2010 alone, Yikes!

So how do we feed the hungry? The EPA outlines some options in their resources, including how everyone can be a food donor (see Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act), then discusses the legal basics (see University of Arkansas' Food Recovery – a legal guide), safety basics (see Comprehensive Guidelines for Food Recovery Programs) and even tax benefits! (See Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic’s Tax Deduction for Food Donation, a Legal Guide)

Some of the success stories they share include Kruger, Food Forward and Savor....Chicago.


Feed Animals
As we move towards "Less Preferred" options we quickly see how diversion can become less of source reduction and much more secondary thought. This is the material that is not fit for human consumption and is instead sent to livestock. This section deals specifically with the Legal Basics of sending food scraps to farms and provides the Swine Health Protection Act and the Leftovers for Livestock: A Legal Guide for Using Excess Food as Animal Feed as resources.


Industrial Uses
As industry gets involved with managing food waste we see how these resources can be refined into fuel, energy and other raw materials that industry can process and market. These include Anaerobic DigestionIndustrial Uses for Fats, Oil, and Grease and shares success stories of Purdue University,
The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD).


Composting
Compost happens, and the value of a good compost for our gardens and agricultural soils is indispensable, but its the last option when it comes to recovering the value of our food. However to let it enter the landfill or incineration systems is the very least preferred and so composting has become an essential waste management service. EPA has outlined some great resources in this section of the hierarchy breakdown, including What is Compost?Benefits of Compost, discussion of Composting Legal Basics for Businesses and Organizations, and some Success Stories and
Stormwater Best Management Practices.


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Auditing - A snap shot of opportunities
5 R's - Redesign, Reduce, Reuse, Re-Earth, Recycle
Reporting - Practical steps towards purposeful recognition