State recycling study shows promise for diverting food to feed hungry

RALEIGH

A new state study shows encouraging trends for North Carolina’s efforts to divert wholesome, uneaten food from landfills so it can be used to feed the hungry.

The “N.C. Organics Recycling Study” revealed that 15,000 tons of wholesome and perishable food was donated and fed to people in 2015. Most of that food was donated by grocery stores, restaurants, catering companies, farmers and other businesses to food rescue organizations that delivered the food to soup kitchens and shelters, said Jorge Montezuma, who works for the state environmental agency and conducted the study.

“We hope this study can be used to encourage food service providers to donate wholesome food to food rescue organizations,” said Montezuma, the state’s Organics Recycling specialist. “There’s a growing need to feed hungry people. Critical to that effort is finding ways to make sure wholesome food produced in excess is used for its original intent, to feed people, and does not end up in a landfill.”

The food that went to feed the hungry in 2015 represented 15 percent of the 100,000 tons of food diverted from landfills, but non-perishable food can also be used for many other purposes. The study found that the other 85,000 tons of food diverted from landfills in North Carolina went to animal feeding and composting operations as well as to an anaerobic digester business that converted the food into biogas to generate electricity. 

While the results of this first study are encouraging, the state still has room for improvement, the study concludes. A 2012 N.C. Department of Environmental Quality study estimated 1.2 million tons of food are sent to landfills each year. The EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture set a goal in 2015 for all states to reduce their food waste by 50 percent by 2030. The agencies are working with the public and private sector to share information on the best ways to achieve that goal.

The study analyzed recycling of organic materials and food waste. Data for the study was gathered from food rescue organizations and the state’s 52 composting facilities permitted by the N.C. Division of Waste Management to recycle food scraps, yard waste, grease from restaurants and other organic materials. The study also revealed positive trends in the amount of organic materials recycled in North Carolina.

It found that municipalities, private organic material recycling businesses and colleges consistently recycled about 600,000 tons of materials each year between 2011 and 2015. Half of the organic material recycled is yard waste, the study showed. The study also revealed increases in recycling of grease trap waste from restaurants. Grease trap waste can be reused in several years, including as pet food or in biofuel.

The study suggests that organics recycling is helped largely by the number of facilities spread across the state, a steady demand for compost, mulch and other carbon-rich materials, and sufficient available capacity to increase the recycling of organic materials at the permitted facilities. The study also suggests that organic recycling efforts will improve in North Carolina if there is increased collaboration between private recycling businesses and the state and local governments.

“The combination of these public/private partnerships … is crucial to divert organic materials from the landfill, create jobs, improve soil health, reduce hunger and meet the EPA/USDA food waste reduction goal,” the report concludes.

The full report is online at: http://deq.nc.gov/conservation/recycling/composting/composting-resources.

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