September 13, 2021

New York Takes a Firm Stance on Food Waste

As of January 1, 2022, New York State will become the latest state to enforce limitations on the amount of food waste to be sent to landfills. The state’s Food Donation and Food Scraps Recycling law requires businesses and certain institutions that generate an annual average of two tons of wasted food per week or more to donate excess edible food and recycle all remaining food scraps. The New York food waste law will impact organizations located within 25 miles of an organic waste recycler. This includes food processors, supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, higher education institutions, correctional facilities, and sports and entertainment venues. 

To date, eight states have put laws in place to keep food waste out of landfills and thereby reduce the significant levels of greenhouse gas emissions generated by organic waste when decomposing in the oxygen-free environments of landfills. However, many more states and cities are taking steps to mitigate this environmental problem. Solutions range from offering tax incentives for food donations to mandating new wording around “sell by” labeling, among other actions. Every step moves the U.S. closer to the 2030 goal set by the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency to cut food waste in half from 2015 levels. At the time, food waste accounted for approximately 60 billion kg (133 billion lb) of the overall available food supply. 

While organizations have had some time to prepare for enforcement, it is a switch that requires an investment of time and money on the part of commercial food operations. The cost of adding a secondary waste transporter alone is driving many businesses to consider their options. Fortunately, the growth in the available options for the disposal of food waste means there are a number of cost-effective alternatives available.

Organizations impacted by New York food waste law

While the law is clear that any New York business generating an annual average of two tons of food waste per week or more must donate or recycle as appropriate, it’s less clear who falls into this category. To this end, there are several tools now available to help organizations determine how each of the qualifications for this rule might apply to them: 

  • Do I generate an annual average of two tons of wasted food per week or more? The NYS Pollution Prevention Institute has made available a food waste estimator to help organizations determine whether or not they generate enough food waste to require compliance with the new law. 
  • Am I within 25 miles of an organic waste recycler? The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation publishes a list of designated food scraps transporters and food scraps recyclers, which will be updated annually. 
  • Do I meet the exemption? The New York food waste law currently allows exemptions for hospitals, nursing homes, adult care facilities, and K-12 schools. It also exempts businesses located within New York City, which already has a similar law in place. Organizations that believe they are unable to meet these requirements by January 1 may apply for a waiver through October 1, 2021. 

For those organizations that meet all relevant criteria, annual reporting is required to fully comply with the law. While there is time before this report will be due—the first deadline is March 1, 2023—it’s best to begin appropriate record keeping today to have the information available when needed. 

Options to food scraps recycling

While the NYS Food Donation and Food Scraps Recycling Law is working to connect organizations with scrap recyclers, businesses aren’t limited to this option in order to comply with the new regulation. Many businesses have found that the cost of separately transporting food waste to an offsite facility simply adds to their waste management costs. What’s more, the emissions generated through this transport have their own environmental impact. As a result, many businesses and institutions seeking to reduce the environmental impact of food waste have explored onsite food waste disposal options. 

Each of these solutions has its own advantages and disadvantages that must be considered. However, organizations interested in the ease of operating an onsite biodigester may find that the one potential disadvantage—the upfront cost that for many companies is soon returned—is no longer a significant stumbling block. Grants are being made available to help New York State businesses and nonprofit organizations account for some part of the cost of purchasing and installing equipment and technologies that divert food waste from landfills. 

As a result, now may be the perfect time to take a closer look at an onsite biodigester. This equipment disposes of waste using existing infrastructure and microorganisms (in lieu of chemicals) that speed the natural decomposition of food. In addition, many commercial food operations find that having their disposal solution located in the kitchen reduces time spent handling food waste. 

Create a plan that works for you

While businesses impacted by the NYS Food Donation and Food Scraps Recycling Law don’t have a choice in meeting these requirements, they do have a choice in how to comply. Businesses should take time today to develop a solution that best fits their needs and budget. 

Power Knot is offering free assessments of how to meet these requirements. To better understand how the new law will impact your business and evaluate your environmental compliance options, contact our Green Waste Manager at toby.zambetti@powerknot.biz or (408) 877-4460. 

Or, if you’re ready to take the next step in your sustainability journey to consider the purchase of an onsite biodigester, contact Power Knot today.

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