Comments on the Draft National Strategy for Reducing Food Loss and Waste and Recycling Organics

Comments on the Draft National Strategy for Reducing Food Loss and Waste and Recycling Organics


Comments on the Draft National Strategy for Reducing Food Loss and Waste and Recycling Organics

  |   February 26, 2024

ReFED submitted these comments in response to EPA, USDA, and FDA’s Draft National Strategy for Reducing Food Loss and Waste and Recycling Organics (hereinafter referred to as “the strategy”). We are thrilled to see the EPA, USDA, and FDA (hereinafter referred to as “the agencies”) driving forward innovative and progressive food loss and waste policy, and we commend this draft strategy. The strategy is a step in the right direction toward achieving the national goal to halve food loss and waste and the EPA’s goal to increase the recycling rate in the United States. We support the strategy’s emphasis on building a more circular economy, managing food in accordance with the wasted food scale, and considering environmental justice at every step along the way. Food is a valuable resource, and the key to reducing food loss and waste is supporting actors along the supply chain in recognizing that value and internalizing the environmental, economic, and social costs associated with wasting food.

As a partner in the Zero Food Waste Coalition, we support the recommendations provided in their comments. Here, we would like to reinforce those that are highest priority in ReFED’s opinion.

  • Conduct a systematic review: While the strategy contains many examples of specific agency actions that will help address FLW, it does not appear the agencies have conducted a holistic evaluation of the impacts and opportunities for each of their programs. We recommend a more thorough approach that requires each program within the three agencies to evaluate 1) current actions or requirements that may be leading to FLW and an estimation of how much FLW is resulting; and 2) opportunities within each program that could help reduce FLW.
  • Ensure Implementation:
    • Ensure Funding: For many of the actions mentioned within the strategy, it is not clear that funding has been secured and therefore, whether the action will definitively be implemented. Ensuring sufficient funding to implement the strategy effectively is an imperative.
    • Prioritize FLW within broader grant programs: Throughout the strategy, many grant programs are mentioned where FLW projects are one of many projects that could qualify. However, it’s not clear FLW projects will necessarily receive that funding over the many other projects that may apply. Allotting points or criteria that provide extra weight to FLW projects, or segmenting a certain portion of those programs for FLW projects, will help ensure those programs do, in fact, help address the problem. This applies to LAMP, SBIR, STTR, innovative manufacturing investments, USDA FNS’s Patrick Leahy Farm to School Grant Program, REAP, and others.
  • Create a whole-of-government strategy. While the draft strategy is an excellent starting point in having the three primary food agencies (the FDA, USDA, and EPA) address food loss and waste within their programming, we encourage the White House and other federal agencies to come together for a whole-of-government strategy. Specifically, we encourage the Department of Defense to participate given the large volumes of food they manage (ReFED estimates the military wasted $693M of food in 2022).
  • Fund adoption of proven prevention solutions. A variety of technologies have successfully demonstrated their ability to prevent food waste, such as waste tracking systems and enhanced demand planning software. The strategy should include grant programs to incentivize adoption of these and other proven solutions.
  • Lead-by-example by committing to measure, report, and reduce food waste in the agencies’ own operations
    • Procurement. The federal government, and particularly the Department of Defense, is one of the largest procurers of food and they should use that purchasing power to reduce food loss and waste where possible. The Federal Food Donation Act of 2008 already requires large procurement contracts to include food donation language, and the agencies can build upon the Act’s mandate by requiring contractors to report their waste and donate all wholesome, surplus food. The requirement could also require contractors to manage food in accordance with the wasted food scale, such as by collecting inedible food scraps for animal feed and composting pathways, and report on volumes of food and food scraps sent to each pathway. Agencies could further procure cosmetically imperfect foods or upcycled foods when possible (or could include a preference for such products). The agencies could also work with the General Services Administration (GSA) to strengthen and encourage the implementation of the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities (FSG) across the federal government and within all federal government facilities.
    • Reporting. The agencies should require, track, compile, and publish reports from their contractors regarding food surplus and waste that results from their food procurement activities. This is particularly important for the Department of Defense given the above-mentioned volume of food they manage.
  • Provide clarifications and more specific commitments around how the agencies will promote environmental justice and equity. We commend that the strategy includes a specific reference to meeting the needs of Tribal and environmental justice communities and promoting equity through the strategy’s implementation. We encourage the agencies to identify the ways in which the agencies will ensure that the strategy’s implementation will serve these target communities, including by providing more information within existing and new strategic actions in the draft strategy. For example, the strategy could include commitments to support living-wage jobs where jobs are already mentioned in the strategy, could clarify how they will support Tribal policymakers as part of its commitment in strategic action 4(B), and could include specific ways in which they will reach out to underserved communities when offering technical assistance.
  • Include greater emphasis on supporting food pathways beyond recycling organic waste, such as upcycled food and animal feed. While animal food is mentioned under Objective 3, there are no strategic actions tailored to incentivizing the diversion of food scraps to animal feed or to upcycled human food products. Given these two pathways are high in the Wasted Food Scale, specific actions to incentivize and support them should be articulated, including offering guidance and model laws and regulations to improve state animal feed regulations.
  • Ensure specific introductory concepts are included in actual programs. Throughout the document, there are some great ideas laid out in the introductory sections that don’t seem to have any implementation component in the action items listed within that section. For instance, Objective 1.A states it will “Deepen collaboration among [many stakeholders] to develop new business models and data to support new policies that use a greater share of foods produced. Examples could include but are not limited to whole crop purchase and/ or partial order acceptance.” However, none of the programs listed in section 1.A seem to accommodate implementation of those ideas. Objective 1
  • USDA AMS should evaluate impacts and opportunities within its grading systems. Currently, there is a massive inefficiency where on average 20% of all food is lost on farms. For instance, a recent WWF study on fresh strawberries on the West Coast found that nearly 40% of the harvest is being left in the field (15% of which meets current market specs and 10% of which is edible but just a bit smaller or larger than market specs). Given the fundamental role that USDA’s grading system plays in determining the criteria for which products qualify for various markets, it is important to understand where there are opportunities to alter grades in a way that could allow more food to be harvested off farms. The AMS should conduct a systematic review of its grades and outline for each product 1) the percent edible product that is considered below grade and thus unmarketable; 2) opportunities to alter specifications or create new grades that could allow for more edible produce to enter the market.
  • USDA AMS should evaluate opportunities to reduce loss at ports. Given the large volume of food that moves through ports, AMS should redouble its efforts to 1) ensure efficient inspections so as not to use up critical shelf life of products and 2) establish a systematic program through its certification process for food donation to ensure product that is not saleable is automatically donated.
  • Annual food loss and waste analyses. Given the data that is already being collected via extension agents, market analyses, certifications, and other programs, USDA should provide annual estimates of losses as it is able.
Objective 2
  • Ensure sufficient funding for consumer campaign. We are thrilled to see the commitment for EPA to fund the development and implementation of a national wasted food prevention campaign aimed at households. However, a behavior change campaign such as this needs several years of implementation to be successful. Consider smoking, seat belts, and littering campaigns, all of which required over a decade of consistent messaging before shifting behaviors. EPA should ensure multiple years of funding for this campaign, and prioritize food waste prevention applications to its REO grant program to enable local partners to further aid outreach and implementation.
  • Make evidence-based best practices for reducing food waste in the national school lunch and breakfast programs mandatory. Best practices that have proven to reduce cafeteria food waste, such as offering more entrée choices, addressing the time and length of mealtimes, and implementing offer versus serve should be required by FNS rather than suggested for consideration. FNS should also encourage schools to solicit feedback from students on their lunch options and reasons for wasting food and accordingly adjust how food is served to increase consumption. The agencies should also consider ways to support food waste audits in schools, leveraging pre-existing resources and resources. Furthermore, USDA should provide broad approval across all states to add bulk milk dispensers and other required equipment to their Capital Expenditure lists for schools. This would eliminate the need for schools to seek state agency pre-approval for the purchase.
  • Commit to incentivizing the private sector to manage food in accordance with the wasted food scale. The U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions was a great start in building industry support for voluntarily reducing food loss and waste within their operations. However, the 2030 Champions designation does not require specific action (i.e., donating surplus food) and it also does not standardize the industry’s food loss and waste data tracking and reporting. To incentivize behavior change within the private sector, the agencies should take the following two actions:
    • Develop a more stringent food loss and waste business certification that signals to consumers which businesses have implemented specified food loss and waste reduction initiatives. The agencies could consider the program outlined in Senator Durbin’s Reduce Food Loss and Waste bill (S.3146),which would require the agencies to develop a business certification program. The USDA could also consider ways to leverage the Process Verified Program to develop a food waste business certification. The EPA already publicizes a number of third-party sustainable certification programs within the EPA’s Recommendations of Specifications, Standards, and Ecolabels in its definition of sustainable products and services. These recommendations are likely to be included as part of the federal sustainable procurement requirements, as outlined in the Sustainable Procurement Proposed Rule.Therefore, developing a food loss and waste business certification program and adding it to the EPA’s Recommendations would not only help private consumers make purchasing decisions that supports sustainable food management, but also would require government purchases to do the same.
    • Include a level of the 2030 Champions that requires reporting. Strategic action 2(C) commits to expanding the 2030 Champions. The agencies could strengthen this strategic action by creating a level of the Champions that includes more comprehensive data collection and reporting on where food loss and waste occurs within the Champions’ supply chains, as well as the food loss and waste prevented through the Champions’ initiatives. Including this commitment within the 2030 Champions strategic action would support the strategy’s goal to close the food loss and waste data gap. Alternatively, the 2030 Champions program could provide special recognition to participants reporting to the US Food Waste Pact.
Objective 3
  • Include greater commitments to supporting animal feed and upcycling pathways. Include more commitments around how the agencies can fund animal feed and upcycling research, support and scale the work of businesses already operating in this space, and encourage food handlers to prioritize animal feed and upcycling pathways in accordance with their places on the Wasted Food Scale.
  • Ensure beneficial use for anaerobic digesters. Digesters are really a pre-treatment that extracts energy–the fate of digestate can be polluting or restorative. Per EPA’s Wasted Food Scale, management of digestate is a key determinant of how beneficial a digester is. EPA should require that any facility receiving federal support via loans or grants–REAP, AgSTAR, SWIFR, or other–must compost or find an otherwise beneficial use for the digestate. In addition, EPA should establish air pollution limits for digesters and require compliance. Additionally, there is a question about whether manure from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) should be considered renewable feedstock and we encourage USDA to look into this further.
  • Build demand for compost (particularly compost derived from food scraps) by updating the USDA definition of compost products to encourage a broader array of buyers (e.g., farms, golf courses) to purchase compost, developing a compost end product marketing campaign, and by facilitating a process to match compost end product generators with new buyers.This commitment should be added within strategic action 3(B).
  • Remove the reference to mixed waste as a feedstock. The strategy states, “USDA NIFA’s Bioeconomy, Biorefining, and Biomanufacturing will continue prioritizing research projects that investigate how food waste and mixed waste can be diverted from the landfill and used as a feedstock for other bioproducts.” Mixed waste is mixed garbage and should not be an eligible feedstock for any organics recycling, and waste-to-energy processes should not count as waste diversion (with limited exceptions for anaerobic digestion using source-separated feedstock and treating liquid and solid digestate for use as soil amendments).
  • Modify “waste to energy” language choice: “Waste to energy” is more appropriately used to describe incineration, which is in the least-preferred tier of the wasted food scale - anaerobic digestion should not be referred to as "waste to energy" given that the primary benefit is returning nutrients and carbon to soil, not energy extraction (see wasted food scale and "From Field to Bin" report).
  • Update the Clean Air Act (CAA) Section 111 New Source Performance Standards and Emission Guidelines for Municipal Solid Waste Landfills. The EPA is already required to reassess the CAA standards for municipal solid waste, and we encourage the EPA to add this commitment to the draft strategy. Doing so will ensure the strategy is a comprehensive delineation of all the actions the agencies are taking to address food loss and waste and will signal to actors working in this space the importance of addressing food waste in landfill. Food waste is the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions at landfills, and therefore setting emissions standards at landfills is essential to controlling and reducing the overall environmental footprint of food waste. Doing so will serve the draft strategy’s goal of increasing organic waste recycling.
Objective 4
  • Create guidance and offer technical assistance for state reporting of food waste, including strategies to aggregate, anonymize, and publicly report monthly or quarterly waste generation data through centralized databases such as the ReFED Insights Engine. This commitment should be included under strategic action 4(B) around supporting governmental policymakers in building circular economies.

ReFED is glad to see the agencies taking the necessary next steps to achieve the national goal to halve food loss and waste by 2030. We appreciate how much effort has gone into the draft strategy to-date and look forward to seeing a final version soon. We also offer to help promote the strategy and host programming that can aid in its implementation should the agencies wish for us to do so.

ReFED is a national nonprofit working to end food loss and waste across the food system by advancing data-driven solutions to the problem. ReFED leverages data and insights to highlight supply chain inefficiencies and economic opportunities; mobilizes and connects people to take targeted action; and catalyzes capital to spur innovation and scale high-impact initiatives. ReFED’s goal is a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive food system that optimizes environmental resources, minimizes climate impacts, and makes the best use of the food we grow.

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