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Pingree, Brownley, Kuster, Booker Introduce Bills to Incentivize Sustainable Practices in Food Consumption

  • Rep. Pingree in front of a produce section in a grocery store

Today, Congresswomen Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Julia Brownley (D-CA), and Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) introduced two bills, the Zero Food Waste Act and the Cultivating Organic Matter through the Promotion Of Sustainable Techniques (COMPOST) Act, to reduce the amount of food wasted in the U.S. and to redirect food waste to composting projects. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. Senate. 

“Food waste has a massive environmental footprint and squanders perfectly good food as millions are going hungry. As the co-founder of the bipartisan Congressional Food Recovery Caucus, I fully support Congresswoman Brownley’s bills to mitigate the environmental hazards posed by wasted food, boost composting efforts nationwide, and reduce the chance that food waste ends up turning into methane in a landfill,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.

“Americans waste more than 40% of the food they purchase, which is alarming, but also presents a tremendous opportunity to reduce the significant impact food production and consumption have on greenhouse gas emissions,” said Congresswoman Julia Brownley. “Smart policies that curb food waste and promote composting are critical to mitigate the impacts of climate change. The Zero Food Waste Act and COMPOST Act incentivize and encourage farmers to implement more sustainable farming practices and provide local governments with the resources to develop strategies that will reduce the amount of food waste that local communities generate. Reducing food waste and composting are practices that go hand in hand and will yield significant results in addressing the challenges of the climate crisis. We must take bold action in the fight to protect our resources and our environment for future generations, including through the development of sustainable food systems.”

“As a proud member of the House Agriculture Committee, eliminating agriculture carbon emissions and addressing hunger are among my top priorities in Congress,” said Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster. “Two ways to help us reach those goals are maximizing the amount of food that gets eaten, and when food must be thrown away, ensuring it is composted to enhance soil health – that’s why I’m excited to join Representatives Brownley and Pingree and Senator Booker to introduce the Zero Food Waste Act and the COMPOST Act. I look forward to advancing this legislation with our colleagues to support a more sustainable, more equitable agriculture system for generations to come.”

“As the economic, environmental, and public health costs of our country’s food waste problem become too large to ignore, it is imperative that we establish a more environmentally-friendly agricultural system that promotes long-term sustainability,” said Senator Cory Booker, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “These two bills will help create such a system by funding efforts undertaken by local, state, and tribal communities to reduce food waste and encouraging the development of composting infrastructure.”

Background on the Zero Food Waste Act

In the U.S., nearly half of all food produced is lost or wasted, which means an estimated $408 billion is spent on growing, processing, transporting, storing, and disposing of food that is never consumed. Landfills are now the third-largest source of methane in the U.S., and food is the single largest input by weight in our landfills and incinerators.

This bill would create a new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administered grant program for state, local, tribal, and territorial governments and for nonprofits, which would offer three types of grants: planning grants, measurement grants, and reduction grants. Planning grants could be used to investigate the kinds of food waste mitigation projects or policies would be most impactful within a given community. Measurement grants could be used to better understand the amount of food waste generated in the state or community.

Reduction grants could be used to fund an assortment of different types of projects. For instance, food waste prevention projects could stop the generation of food waste. Recycling projects could reuse food waste as a feedstock for other non-food products, such as composting. Rescuing projects could redirect surplus food to places like food shelters. Upcycling projects could make new food from ingredients that would otherwise go to landfills. Additionally, localities could use the grant funding to implement food waste landfill disposal or incineration restrictions designed to stop food waste.

Endorsements and Statements of Support

“Organic waste is the number one item by volume entering our landfills and is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire US airline industry, all while millions of Americans experience hunger. Simply put, food is too valuable to throw away. The Zero Food Waste Act would support state, local, and tribal communities making the policy changes and infrastructure investments needed to develop a circular food economy, invest in community health and jobs, and curb greenhouse gas emissions. By leading here at home, the US can show the world how to invest in a food system where people and nature thrive,” said Pete Pearson, Global Food Loss and Waste Lead, World Wildlife Fund.  

“Food waste is a problem that's absolutely in our power to solve and doing so would have measurable benefits for the climate and environment, for jobs and the economy, and for those struggling with food insecurity. The Zero Food Waste Act provides much-needed government funding to implement common-sense solutions to reduce food waste. And I'm particularly excited to see it prioritizing communities of color, low-income and tribal communities that are disproportionately affected by the impacts of food waste,” said Dana Gunders, Executive Director, ReFED.   

“Congress has the power to significantly reduce food waste through the Zero Food Waste Act, which would create the first EPA grant program specifically intended for food waste reduction efforts,” said Emily Broad Leib, Faculty Director of Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. “The $650 million authorized for the program under the Act could go a long way toward enabling food waste reduction efforts across the U.S. by supporting local, state, and tribal governments in implementing the solutions that make most sense in their region. We therefore strongly encourage Congress to pass the Zero Food Waste Act, and not to miss out on an important opportunity for action on both climate and food security.” 

“When food is wasted, the same amount of greenhouse gases is generated as from 58 million cars a year. The Zero Food Waste Act directly contributes to the administration’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis by preventing food from going to waste and ending up in landfills and incinerators. The much-needed federal funding from this bill better equips cities, states, and tribal communities – usually responsible for waste management, land use, and local food regulations – to take the lead in food waste reduction like never before,” said Yvette Cabrera, Director of Food Waste at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). 

The bill is also endorsed by the Make Food Not Waste, the Center for EcoTechnology, Californians Against Waste, ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability USA, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Food Waste Reduction Alliance, the National Restaurant Association, FMI (Food Industry Association), and the Consumer Brands Association. 

The text of the bill can be found here.

Background on the Cultivating Organic Matter through the Promotion Of Sustainable Techniques (COMPOST) Act

Composting is one of the most environmentally friendly means of disposing of food waste and other organic waste. Not only does composting emit a smaller quantity of greenhouse gases compared to alternative disposal methods, it also yields a valuable soil additive that enhances soil health, which in turn makes the soil a better absorber of carbon, while also making the land more resilient to climate change-fueled disasters like wildfires and floods. Additionally, while there is growing interest by individuals and businesses across the country to compost food scraps and compostable packaging, there is not enough composting infrastructure in the U.S. to meet this demand.

This bill would add composting as a conservation practice for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation programs. Both the act of producing compost from organic waste and using compost on a farm would qualify as a conservation practice. It also would create new USDA grant and loan guarantee programs for composting infrastructure projects, including both large-scale composting facilities as well as farm, home, or community-based projects.

Endorsements and Statements of Support

“By increasing composting infrastructure investment, the COMPOST Act is an important step towards a more circular economy, helping to address key environmental challenges and bringing economic opportunity to local communities across our country,” said Frank Franciosi, Executive Director of the U.S. Composting Council and member of the U.S. Composting Infrastructure Coalition. “We applaud Representatives Brownley, Kuster, and Pingree and Senator Booker for prioritizing innovative waste reduction and recovery solutions like composting.” 

“Composting reduces greenhouse gas emissions, improves soil health, and helps farmers and ranchers build resilience to climate extremes,” said Eric Deeble, Policy Director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). “To date, the management of compost production and on-farm application has not been made a conservation practice by USDA so farmers have not been able to receive assistance for this soil health practice through the farm bill’s conservation programs. We thank Representatives Brownley, Pingree, and Kuster and Senator Booker for introducing this important, climate-smart, and farmer-friendly legislation that corrects this oversight. NSAC is committed to working to see it adopted into law as soon as possible so farmers and ranchers have an affordable and practical tool to mitigate and adapt to climate change.”

The bill is also endorsed by the Plant Based Products Council, Corn Refiners Association, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Biodegradable Products Institute, US Green Building Council, ReFED, Harvard Food Law and Policy Center, and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).

The text of the bill can be found here.

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