Organic waste management in New Jersey: Reducing food waste and improving food equity

December 3, 2021

Tracy Youngster is a fifth-year PhD candidate in the Rutgers University Ecology & Evolution Graduate Program

Organic Waste Management background

When organic waste, like food, enters a landfill, it releases methane which is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. There are many ways to keep organic materials out of landfills including: reducing waste at the source, diverting edible food to people in need, and recycling organics into high-value byproducts like compost and energy. The Organic Waste Management Research Team is researching various state policies for reducing organic waste to determine how New Jersey can improve its current practices to reduce both hunger and methane emissions.

While the general concepts for reducing food waste are simple, the logistics of promoting this behavior on a large scale across various sectors are challenging. National and state-level food waste policies play a pivotal role in bridging gaps in the circular network of organic waste, (e.g., incentivizing businesses to donate excess food to food banks, investing in food storage and rescue infrastructure to minimize spoilage, and encouraging waste reduction and feeding hungry students in school systems).  With support from the New Jersey Policy Lab, our work researching other states’ practices will help guide the discussion on improving sustainability and equity in New Jersey’s food and waste systems.

Current NJ Policies

New Jersey has not historically prioritized organic waste management, focusing instead on non-organic material recycling and remediating superfund sites. New Jersey has recently passed several pieces of legislation to both reduce organic waste and improve anti-hunger programs.

In October 2021, New Jersey enacted an Organic Waste Ban that prohibits large waste generators (businesses that produce over 52 tons of waste/year) from sending organic waste to landfills if they are located within 25 miles of an approved organic waste processing facility.

New Jersey also passed legislation in September 2021 to help address food insecurity issues which can be implemented to reduce both hunger and food waste by expanding SNAP benefits and increasing funding for school food programs.

These new policies, along with emphasis placed on reducing food waste in the NJDEP’s 80×50 Global Warming Response Act report [1], will help move the needle regarding organic waste reduction and food insecurity efforts in the state.

READ REPORT

Resources

[1] Department of Environmental Protection. (2020). NJDEP Global Warming Response Act 80 x 50 Report. The State of New Jersey. Retrieved from https://www.state.nj.us/dep/climatechange/mitigation.html

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