How an Upside-Down Triangle Can Help Save Our Planet

The food recovery hierarchy, explained

It’s not exactly a marvel of graphic design, but this upside-down triangle is getting the job done for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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The food recovery hierarchy prioritizes actions governments, businesses, and other organizations can take to reduce food waste or divert non-edible material in the most beneficial way for the environment, society, and the economy.

Based on the broader waste management hierarchy, the U.S. EPA and U.S. Department of Agriculture published an early version of this material-specific hierarchy in their 1999 report: Waste Not, Want Not: Feeding the Hungry and Reducing Solid Waste Through Food Recovery. The document sought to provide guidance to states, jurisdictions, and businesses on how best to reduce food waste.

That guidance is even more instrumental today as California and other states take the lead in America’s fight against climate change. When sent to landfills, food and other organic material decomposes and emits methane, a super pollutant 70 times more potent than carbon dioxide. California alone landfills about 6 million tons of food scraps or food waste each year, making it the largest material type in California’s waste stream (roughly 18 percent). The state’s 75 percent recycling goal, as well as its strategy to combat climate change, require significant reductions in the amount of food and other organic material sent to California landfills.

The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) is among the entities that use the Food Recovery Hierarchy to better inform organic waste management policy and program efforts. The hierarchy helps target California climate investments in the waste and recycling sector needed to divert food and other valuable materials away from landfills and toward beneficial reuse. The inverted triangle is also an important tool in the implementation of SB 1383 (Lara, Chapter 395, Statutes of 2016), which establishes targets to reduce short-lived climate pollutants, including methane. The law calls for a 50 percent reduction of organics in landfills by 2020, a 75 percent reduction by 2025, and a requirement that 20 percent of currently disposed edible food be recovered for human consumption by 2025.

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Credit: Natural Resources Defense Council April 2017 Strategic Guide

Ultimately, reducing the amount of surplus food we generate in the first place is the most environmentally beneficial way to cut energy expended and emissions associated with growing, transporting, processing, and storing food. Learn more about CalRecycle’s new Food Waste Prevention and Rescue Grant Program, California’s new push to recover edible food for hungry people before it becomes waste, and the state’s latest investments to turn food and other organic waste into renewable energy or increase compost capacity and demand in California.

— Lance Klug
Posted on Jul 3, 2017

Summary: The food recovery hierarchy prioritizes actions governments, businesses, and other organizations can take to reduce food waste or divert non-edible material in the most beneficial way for the environment, society, and the economy.