NYSERDA: NY food waste diversion could net $22 million yearly

By NYSERDA | March 22, 2017

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority released a report showing an anticipated benefit of up to $22 million annually, including reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, if large generators of food waste donate edible food and send food scraps to organic recycling centers. The report supports Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed NYS Food Recovery and Recycling Act which requires large generators of food scraps to divert waste from landfills starting in 2021.
NYSERDA funded the report, “Benefit-Cost Analysis of Potential Food Waste Diversion,” which analyzed the potential benefits of requiring large generators of food waste outside of New York City and that are located within 50 miles of a food waste management facility to divert from their current disposal practices.
John B. Rhodes, President and CEO, NYSERDA said, “The findings on alternative food waste disposal strategies support Governor Cuomo’s nation-leading energy goals and offer another opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The report provides a blueprint for reducing disposal costs and making our environment cleaner and healthier.”
Currently, an estimated 4 million tons of excess food, edible food not sold or used by its generator, and food scraps, inedible food and edible food not donated, are generated annually in New York State.  Each year, more than 97 percent of these food wastes are landfilled or combusted increasing emissions of harmful methane gasses. 
According to the report, outside of New York City which already has similar requirements for food waste reduction, there are nearly 1,700 large food waste generators that produce at least two tons of food waste per week throughout the year. These generators are responsible for producing more than 416,600 tons of food and food scraps annually, amounting to 8,000 tons weekly, some of which is still edible and safe for consumption.  
The report’s analysis found that if food scraps were recycled or diverted to compost or anaerobic digester systems, large food waste generators could reduce costs and greenhouse gas emissions by 175,448 metric tons annually, the equivalent of taking 37,093 cars off the road. This would help the state reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030.
“Through Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York is becoming a national leader in pioneering a variety of investments and initiatives to encourage food donation and recycling,” said New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos . “As this report finds, diverting food waste from landfills stands to benefit all New Yorkers by putting good food to good use at area food banks, reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change and saving resources. The Governor’s proposed budget provides important resources to reduce landfilling of food waste by supporting organics recycling infrastructure, facilitating increased food donation to food banks, and providing funds for larger generators of food scraps to divert material from disposal.”
To encourage food waste recycling, Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget proposes $3 million for municipalities for food donation and recycling projects. In addition, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is proposing revisions to the municipal recycling grant program to fund priority projects, such as addressing food waste, while continuing to support traditional capital recycling projects on a first in-first out basis, as well as supporting recycling coordinators and household hazardous waste collections annually.
The Empire State Development Corporation is also providing $1 million in grants to expand cold storage capacity at food banks as well as $2 million in grants over three years to large generators to implement recommendations from waste audits, such as to purchase storage bins and coolers for food donation, and to improve, and expand on-site composting. DEC has also awarded more than $3.7 million to help municipalities update recycling infrastructure through Climate Smart Communities program awards.
The report estimates the current cost associated with hauling, tipping (dumping), greenhouse gases and the damages from disposing of food wastes from large producers is approximately $41 million annually. If the use of food waste recycling facilities is expanded throughout the state, it could reduce those costs by $15 million to $22 million a year. According to the report, large food waste generators could save $3 million on hauling and $5.3-$9.9 million on tipping costs, for a total of $8.3 – $12.9 million in savings.
These savings do not factor in the added benefit of increased food donations.  As much of the food waste generated by New York’s large food scraps generators, including supermarkets, restaurants, colleges, and hospitals, is edible, this wasted food represents lost opportunities to assist the estimated 14 percent of New Yorkers that are food insecure.  If just five percent of this material were donated, food banks would see an increase of 20 percent in the amount of food available for consumption, increasing their ability to feed New Yorkers in need while addressing climate change.