landfills

Working with Local Governments and Communities to Fight Food Waste

By Mathy Stanislaus

After returning from our first Food Recovery Summit in Charleston, South Carolina where we announced the 2015 Food Recovery Challenge winners, I found myself thinking about food, and not just the wonderful Charleston restaurants. In 2013, an estimated 35 million tons of food went to landfills and incinerators, accounting for 21% of the American waste stream.

Excessive food waste results in:

  • Social Costs: 48 million Americans, of which roughly 16 million are children, live in homes without enough food. We need to redirect wholesome, nutritious food that otherwise is wasted to families in need.
  • Economic Costs: at the retail and consumer levels food loss and waste is estimated at $161 billion dollars in the U.S.
  • Environmental Costs: Organic material in landfills decomposes and generates methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas. This disposed food is a main contributor to the roughly 18% of total U.S. methane emissions that come from landfills – contributing directly to climate change.

EPA and USDA announced an ambitious 2030 U.S. domestic goal to cut in half food loss and waste by 2030. By Earth Day 2016, we will announce a food loss & waste plan of action to serve as a roadmap for tackling wasted food and to meet the 2030 goal.

Heather McTeer Toney, Regional Administrator for EPA’s Southeast Region (far left) and Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (far right) with Food Recovery Summit attendees.

Heather McTeer Toney, Regional Administrator for EPA’s Southeast Region (far left) and Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (far right) with Food Recovery Summit attendees.

Many local communities are leading the way with novel, game-changing ways to reduce waste while building communities. For example, MB Financial Park in Rosemont, Illinois, one of the 2015 Food Recovery Challenge Winners, developed the “Green for a Reason” program, in which 1,000 employees and 1.6 million visitors recovered more than 150 tons of organic materials.

Other examples of best practices identified at the Food Recovery Summit include: businesses and other organizations donating excess wholesome food to food banks, shelters and soup kitchens; creative re-use of trimmings by a university dining staff; composting in urban settings; and using wasted food to produce electricity. A complete list of the 2015 awardees is at http://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/food-recovery-challenge-results-and-award-winners#2015awards.

It will take every level of government, non-profits, businesses, universities and, most importantly, individuals to make real change in how we view and value food. Making this shift happen relies on changes in all of our behaviors.

Here at EPA, we are working to identify opportunities for achieving responsible and sustainable management of America’s food resources and find the barriers that must be tackled to make progress. We want to partner with states, communities, businesses, NGOs, and charities to help use food in a socially, environmentally, and economically beneficial manner. I believe we can get there and build and energize communities at the same time.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Tools Promoting Reuse-Evaluating Clean Energy for Contaminated Properties

By Mathy Stanislaus

Last month while attending the Brownfields conference in Chicago, I spoke with numerous mayors, community members, developers, financiers, and many others working to revitalize their communities. One common theme I heard was the need for tools and resources that could be deployed at the community or site level to help facilitate the cleanup or reuse of degraded or blighted properties. Toward that end I am pleased to announce the release of our RE-Powering America’s Land electronic decision tree tool. It will let communities and stakeholders examine the key considerations associated with solar or wind development on a formerly contaminated property or a landfill.

You may not have thought about siting renewable energy on a landfill or formerly contaminated property but it presents a unique opportunity to transform dormant and degraded properties into productive community assets. To date, more than 150 renewable energy installations have been installed on contaminated lands, landfills and mine sites across the U.S., providing clean energy to power cleanups, on-site operations and community electricity needs. The Agency’s RE-Powering Initiative has supported and continues to advance this trend. Because of these projects, communities across the country have saved millions of dollars in energy costs, created construction jobs, and received new property tax revenue as a result of reusing these sites for renewable energy.

The electronic decision tree is a downloadable computer application that walks users through a series of questions supplemented by tips and links to relevant tools and information sources. The user is guided through various considerations associated with the site, redevelopment process, and criteria specific to landfills and contaminated properties. In addition, it helps users explore how the regulatory context, financial incentives and future electricity usage affect projects. You would think that the amount of sun and the site conditions would mainly determine feasibility; however, these other factors tend to dominate.

This new tool helps communities and other stakeholders explore their sites, engage developers and drive their vision of productive reuse. The tools inform and empower communities to plan and align their desires for economic development within a sustainable land management strategy.

RE-Powering encourages renewable energy on contaminated lands in a variety of ways by:

  • Identifying and screening contaminated properties
  • Disseminating success stories and best practices
  • Clarifying liability
  • Articulating associated environmental, economic and community benefits
  • Disseminating financing strategies and information on incentives
  • Highlighting favorable policies; and
  • Developing partnerships and pursuing outreach

Most of all, RE-Powering brings two important ideas together: the interest in cleaning up contaminated land and in siting renewable energy. And, all this in the context of what’s appropriate for the site and what is desired by the community.

Check out the new RE-Powering website and all its resources, its updated mapper and, of course, the new electronic decision tree tool.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Urban Composting: It’s Always Worth It

By Barbara Pualani

Any household organic material can be composted (and used again!).

Any household organic material can be composted (and used again!).

Earth-friendly urban dwellers know just how precarious composting in the city can be. Storage bags of frozen food waste in the freezer, the subway ride overloaded with multiple bags, sometimes difficult-to-find drop-off sites. I have shared countless stories with friends about urban composting. Shenanigans abound, but we always agree that in the end it’s worth it.

Take a friend of mine that I met as a student at Columbia University. Every week she would bring her compost from New Jersey to the campus farmer’s market. She would carry a week’s worth of food waste one train ride and two subway rides every Thursday. But one day, running late, the farmer’s market closed before she could get there, leaving her stuck with the compost. She wasn’t too worried–until a student meeting ended up lasting four hours. By that time, the forgotten compost was stinking up the room and annoying her fellow students. Luckily, she eventually found a fridge to store it in. Her friends laughed it off.

Composting can sometimes seem pretty inconvenient, so why do it at all? Because food waste is actually a really big problem.

Rotting food in landfills is a substantial source of methane—a greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. In the U.S., landfills account for more than 20 percent of all methane emissions. Organic materials make up the largest portion of this waste. Paper materials comprise 27 percent while yard trimmings and food comprise 28 percent. This means that 55 percent of all waste in this country can potentially be composted rather than rotting in our landfills.

The story sounds dire, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Composting has made substantial headway in recent years.

According to EPA’s Advancing Sustainable Materials Management study released this year, Americans recycled and composted over 87 million tons of waste in 2013, which in carbon dioxide equivalent terms is equal to removing emissions for over 39 million passenger vehicles from the road in one year. The most recent numbers show that 5 percent of food is now composted annually. Over 2.7 million households are served by food composting collection programs nationwide. Even in the city, composting is becoming more convenient. New York City recently mandated composting for all hotel restaurants, arenas and wholesalers, and there are various organics collection services & drop off points for residents in all five boroughs.

On a different Thursday, my friend was again dropping off her compost. She mentioned to the man running the booth that she brought it all the way from New Jersey. Upon hearing this, he bowed his head with his hands folded in prayer and said, “You are an inspiration to us all.” Although we giggled about this later, he’s absolutely right.

This is why we compost—to inspire, to reduce our carbon footprint, and to do our fair share in taking care of this planet.

The biggest lesson we can learn is it’s not just for green-thumbed hippies. One of my favorite stories comes from a former colleague who told me (facetiously, of course) that composting had taken a toll on her marriage. After a year of picking his organics out of the garbage, she finally confronted her husband about his incorrect trash disposal methods. He explained how he didn’t really care about it, and even though he knew she had already explained how to do it, he was still unsure. Because her husband is very Catholic, she resorted to quoting the Pope who believes “everyone has a moral obligation to care for the planet.” Now her husband puts his organics in the compost bags; if he is unsure if the item is compostable, he asks. My colleague ended this story with an assurance and a wink: “I am happily married.”

I like to collect these anecdotes—laughter is the best medicine after all—but they serve to amplify the real problem: organic waste is a serious contributor to climate change, and we all need to do our part to address it. If you’re confused about what’s compostable and what’s not, check out your city’s local web page.  Or, like my friend’s husband, if you’re confused, just ask. It never hurts to research or ask around until you do find someone who knows. And it’s always worth it.

About the author: Barbara Pualani serves as a speechwriter for EPA Region 2. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. She resides in Brooklyn and is a graduate of University of Northern Colorado and Columbia University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Combating Wasted Food: Good for the Environment, Good for Your Bottom Line

Here’s a really smart way for businesses – from restaurants to grocery store chains to hotels and more – to boost their bottom lines: Reduce wasted food.

This week we’re holding a week of action on wasted food. It’s all about sustainability – environmentally and economically – and how we meet the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet the needs of tomorrow.

In 2012, the United States threw away about 35 million tons of food – more than any other type of waste going to landfills. When that wasted food gets to the landfill, it rots, generating methane gas – one of the most potent contributors to climate change. All of this waste also squanders the water, energy, nutrients and money used to transport that food.

At the same time, many Americans don’t know where their next meal will come from. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that, in 2012, 14 percent of households regularly did not have enough food to live active, healthy lifestyles.

More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Let’s Talk About Feeding People, Not Landfills

We throw more food into landfills than any other material. A typical family of four loses about $1,600 each year by tossing out wasted food, which rots in landfills generating methane gas and contributing to climate change.

What can you do to reduce the amount of wasted food while you’re at home or at work? Composting, donating safe untouched food to local food banks, buying only what you need by planning your menus for the week, and using leftovers are just some of the ways you can help feed people, not landfills.

One in six Americans struggle to put food on the table. Donating your excess canned and dried foods to food banks and shelters can help those in need while protecting the environment.

To learn more, or ask me questions about what you can do, join our Twitter Chat on Friday, November 21 starting at 10:30 am ET. I will be joined by other Agency experts to answer your questions and share tips on how each of us can play a significant role in reducing wasted food. On Friday, use the hashtag #NoWastedFood and follow @EPAlive to participate in the food recovery conversation.

Food is too good to waste, so let’s be part of the solution and divert food from landfills.

About the author: Mathy Stanislaus is the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Reducing Food Waste and Promoting Food Recovery Globally

As we approach Thanksgiving, some of you will be sitting down with family and friends over a bounty of delicious food, while others may use this occasion to donate their time volunteering in food pantries or kitchens supporting efforts to distribute a meal to those less fortunate.

An estimated one third of food available goes uneaten, much of it going to landfills where it produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas, contributing to climate change. Food waste now represents the single largest category of materials sent to landfills in the U.S. Globally, nearly one-third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, which would be enough to feed approximately 2 billion people worldwide, and accounts for 6-10 percent of human-generated greenhouse gases.

More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Switch Flipped On at Largest Solar Farm on a Superfund Site

The DuPont Newport Solar Project was recently completed in December 2013 and has an installed capacity of 548 kW (Photo courtesy of DuPont USA)

The DuPont Newport Solar Project was recently completed in December 2013 and has an installed capacity of 548 kW (Photo courtesy of DuPont USA)

By Charlie Howland

I work on an EPA initiative called RE-Powering America’s Land, which encourages renewable energy development on contaminated lands, landfills, and mine sites.  I was excited to learn that the switch was recently flipped at the 10 megawatt Maywood Solar Farm on 45 acres in Indianapolis and it began pumping electricity into the grid, becoming the nation’s largest solar farm on a Superfund site.  The developer estimates that the project will reduce CO2e emissions by 13,235 metric tons per year, which is equal to the amount of carbon produced for energy use in more than 1,800 residential homes or the carbon output of 2,757 passenger vehicles. But to some folks, especially long-time EPA attorneys like me, it’s the site’s original name – Reilly Tar and Chemical – that might ring a bell. A 1982 court decision about another Reilly Tar site was one of the first to interpret Superfund’s liability provisions. The court helped determine the party responsible for paying to cleanup contamination.

The Maywood solar farm and others, such as the DuPont Newport solar farm project in Delaware, on which I recently worked, stand as examples of our efforts to help renewable energy developers. At the Newport site, a 548 kilowatt, five-acre solar installation now generates approximately 729,000 kilowatt hours of power per year — enough electricity to power about 60 homes.

There is an increasing buzz about the environmental, civic, financial and grid benefits of siting renewable energy projects on environmentally impaired lands, be they Superfund, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) or Brownfield sites. We recognize that such projects are often the best use for contaminated lands, while helping to preserve existing green open spaces. Today, we’re aware of over 100 renewable energy projects that have been developed on such sites, with over 700 MW of installed capacity. Thus far, the majority of these projects sell power back to the grid in wholesale electricity markets, and sell the accompanying Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to utilities and interested institutions and other consumers. The remaining projects generally provide energy for onsite use. Systems range from utility-scale systems, like the 35 MW wind farm at the former Bethlehem steel mill on the shore of Lake Erie in Lackawanna, New York, to smaller scale projects that serve green remediation systems, like the 280-kilowatt Paulsboro Terminal Landfill in New Jersey.

The Reilly Tar & Chemical site in Indianapolis—now home to the Maywood Solar Farm—produced refined chemicals and treated wood products from the 1950s to 1972 (Photo courtesy of Hanwha Q CELLS and Vertellus Specialties, Inc.)

The Reilly Tar & Chemical site in Indianapolis—now home to the Maywood Solar Farm—produced refined chemicals and treated wood products from the 1950s to 1972 (Photo courtesy of Hanwha Q CELLS and Vertellus Specialties, Inc.)

In my RE-Powering work, I am often reminded of an experience I had while serving as general counsel for a renewable energy developer. The firm had learned that the township in which it had optioned a parcel of farmland for a solar project had amended its zoning ordinance, restricting solar projects such as ours to areas zoned industrial. My arguments to convince the town council to change their zoning back were unsuccessful. At the end of the evening, the mayor came to me and said, “You know, we really do like your project. But we’d rather see it on the old landfill we own, instead of on farmland. What do you think?”

This is the question that the Maywood Solar Farm helps answer for the Reilly Tar site; and it’s the same one we’re asking at other contaminated properties across the country.

About the Author: Since 1990, Charlie Howland has been a Senior Assistant Regional Counsel in Region III, specializing in cleanups under CERCLA and RCRA at private sites and federal facilities.  He serves on EPA’s RE-Powering America Rapid Response Team.  Outside of EPA he took a leave of absence in 2008 and 2009 to work for a renewable energy development firm, and he currently teaches energy law and policy at Villanova Law School.

 

 

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Earth Month Tip: Compost

Composting your food and yard waste reduces the amount of garbage you send to landfills and reduces carbon pollution. Using food and kitchen scraps, yard trimmings, and other organic waste to create a compost pile can also help increase soil water retention, decrease erosion, and replace chemical fertilizers.

Learn more about composting at home: http://www2.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home

More tips: http://www.epa.gov/earthday/actonclimate/

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Food Recovery Challenge 2012 Award Winners’ Inspiring Accomplishments

By Laurie Solomon

I feel blessed to be a member of EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge team. We’re passionate about reducing food waste, which is a big problem. Americans tossed out more than 36 million tons of food in 2011, almost all of which ended up in landfills or incinerators. Despite all this wasted food, nearly 15 percent of U.S. households were food-insecure in 2012, meaning they didn’t know where their next meal would come from. And here’s one fact that I didn’t know before joining the team: food decomposes rapidly in landfills to generate methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The Food Recovery Challenge asks participants to reduce as much of their food waste as possible – saving money, helping communities, and protecting the environment.

My team recently congratulated nine participants for their significant contributions to reducing food waste in the U.S. in 2012. Wow, is it interesting to see how grocers, universities, sports venues, and other organizations responded. Take Clark University, one of this year’s Innovation Award winners – their composting pilot project discovered that up to 60 percent of dorm waste is compostable. Commercial-size compost bins are now on all floors of freshman dorms, as well as in the dining hall.

Cupertino, CA’s story is also really inspiring.  It negotiated a five-year franchise agreement with its waste hauler to achieve a 75 percent waste diversion rate, meaning this waste wouldn’t end up in landfills or incinerators.  The city identified higher rates of food waste collection and composting as the means to achieving this goal, and is making great progress.  I am so inspired by the innovative actions taken by not just these two organizations, but all the winners of the Food Recovery Challenge awards. Read about the other wonderful winners on our website.

I’m proud to be part of a team that cares about the issue of wasted food and pleased that the team recognized nine organizations’ successful accomplishments.

About the author: Laurie Solomon started with EPA in 1987 and currently works in the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. Each Earth Day, Laurie dons the Garbage Gremlin costume to interact with elementary school children at her son’s former elementary school.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Making a Green City Even Greener

By Jeff Maurer

Polystyrene Food Container

Polystyrene Food Container

New Yorkers don’t like being second-best; whether its sports, food, or the arts, we strive to lead, not follow. One of the newer facets of New York’s character is a desire to be a leader in environmentalism and sustainability. This is huge; making the big apple a green apple will provide a model for other cities to follow. Recently, Mayor Bloomberg took two important steps in that direction by banning polystyrene foam (commonly called Styrofoam) containers and requiring the city’s largest food waste generators to separate their food waste.

When it comes to being bad for the environment, polystyrene foam is a repeat offender.  Polystyrene foam used to be regularly manufactured using ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, and even today it is impossible to confirm that all polystyrene foam is “ozone safe.” Styrene, the basic building block of polystyrene, is classified as a possible carcinogen by EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The manufacture of polystyrene requires large amounts of petroleum and chemicals. When polystyrene foam goes to a landfill, it stays there: it can take more than a million years for a polystyrene product to decompose.

Polystyrene foam is about as bad for the environment as a product can get; that’s why Mayor Bloomberg’s ban is a welcome development. Better alternatives are available; companies including Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, Wendy’s, McDonalds, Red Lobster, and Arby’s have already stopped using polystyrene foam. The City Council passed the ban unanimously. This is a change whose time has come.

Another important step towards becoming a more equitable and sustainable city came in Mayor Bloomberg’s requirement that the city’s largest food waste generators separate their food waste. This will result in more food being composted or given to the needy; less will go to landfills. We should be taking every measure to avoid wasting food, especially when more than 14 percent of New Yorkers – almost 3 million people – don’t have enough to eat. When food goes to a landfill it rots and becomes a significant source of methane, a greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. This measure will encourage New York’s largest producers of food to keep food on our tables and out of landfills.

New York has a lot of competition for the title of “greenest city;” nearby, cities including New Paltz and Newark are putting ambitious programs in place to make their cities greener. I’m glad to see Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council take these steps to bolster New York’s reputation as a leader in environmental protection and sustainability.

About the Author: Jeff is a speechwriter and public affairs specialist. He started in EPA’s Washington, DC office in 2005 and moved to EPA’s Region 2 office in New York in 2011. Before joining EPA, Jeff served in the Peace Corps in Morocco. He is an avid soccer fan and part-time standup comedian, and can periodically be found performing at clubs around New York.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.