Reducing Food Waste Through Legislation

A new food waste ban in Massachusetts requires certain businesses and institutions to donate, compost or produce energy with their organic food waste.

Plate Waste

Unfinished food that’s often just scraped into the trash — referred to as “plate waste” — makes up one segment of the overwhelming amount of food we waste in the United States.

Photo by Flickr/Alpha

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A new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that more than 133 billion pounds — a whopping 31 percent — of our available food supply goes uneaten each year. This includes “plate waste,” spoilage and losses to pests. To put this phenomenal food loss in perspective, USDA researchers estimate this amount of food contains 141 trillion calories, which is enough to feed about 175 million people for an entire year! We can’t salvage all of this, but surely we can do better.

Massachusetts is one state leading the charge in reducing food waste. Since Oct. 1, 2014, frittering away leftover fritters — or any other organic material — has been banned for institutions in Massachusetts that produce 1 ton or more of food waste per week. That means about 1,700 businesses are no longer allowed to squander leftovers, but must instead donate remaining edible food to those in need, compost organic waste on-site or at a commercial facility, or use the material to produce electricity via an anaerobic methane digester.

Implementation of the new law is part of the state’s response to concerns about limited landfill space and reports on the staggering amount of edibles we chuck out in the United States. Massachusetts is also offering tax incentives to encourage the opening of more anaerobic digesters and is providing assistance to affected facilities to help them find a cost-effective — and often, compared with traditional landfill drop-offs, cost-saving — option.

Although a limit on what can go into the trash versus the compost pile hasn’t been set for individual households, the new law is poised to make citizens more aware and help them waste less food, too.

Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely working in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can find Jennifer on Twitter or .