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Navigating food waste regulations: A guide for businesses

Sponsored: Exploring food waste regulations, sustainable practices and the importance of education and leadership for successful food scrap diversion programs.

A pile of rotting vegetable food waste.

Food waste rotting on a bio farm. Image courtesy of  Janosch Kunze / Shutterstock.

This article is sponsored by Rubicon.

Food waste regulations are a crucial issue for businesses across the United States, particularly for those with multiple locations.

As more states, counties and cities implement food waste regulations, companies must ensure they remain in compliance and reduce their environmental impact. In recent years, notable food waste regulations have been implemented across the country, including California’s SB 1383 and New York City’s Commercial Organic Recycling Rules.

Food waste is the No. 1 material going to the landfill by weight and is often the heaviest material in our trash, which means diverting it away from landfills and into recycling streams can have a significant impact on reducing waste overall. 

In this article, we will explore the latest food waste regulations from across the country, discuss best practices for staying compliant and sustainable, and delve into the importance of site-level education and leadership support in implementing successful food scrap diversion programs.

Proposed food waste regulations

Restaurants and other foodservice businesses are pushing for more organics recycling infrastructure due to new and upcoming food waste regulations.

There is not yet a standardized model for food waste collection across the country, so brands must implement a patchwork of programs if they are to stay compliant, which makes that task significantly more difficult.

Certain regulations are already in effect, such as those mentioned above in California and New York City. Other upcoming regulations across the country include:

  • New Hampshire: Proposed measure H.B. 300 prohibits landfilling or incineration of one ton or more of food waste generated per week. If the measure passes, food waste must be managed by an authorized facility within 50 miles of the point of generation.
  • New Jersey: Proposed measure A.B. 1439 requires each solid waste management district to develop a strategy to reduce food waste. It also requires the Department of Environmental Protection to develop measures to help solid waste management districts achieve this goal.
  • New York: Senate Bill 984 requires state and municipal agencies to establish a composting program in their buildings. The agencies must report to the Department of Environmental Conservation on their composting programs, including the amount of waste collected and program costs.
  • Washington state: H.B. 1033 proposes a committee to develop compostable product management standards. The committee must also explore financial incentives and reusable item policies.

Why your business should divert food waste

Diverting food waste from landfills is crucial for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and addressing climate change. When food waste decomposes, it produces methane, a potent GHG. By diverting food waste to composting or anaerobic digestion facilities, businesses can significantly reduce their carbon footprint, reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Implementing a food scrap diversion program may seem daunting, but many companies, including Rubicon, offer food waste diversion services and resources are readily available to help your business get started. Businesses must adhere to food waste regulations to avoid potential fines. Most regulations require businesses to separate food scraps from other waste streams and dispose of them through composting or anaerobic digestion. Some regulations also require businesses to track and report their food waste diversion efforts. Staying up to date with regulations and reporting requirements can be a significant challenge.

To effectively manage food waste, businesses can first conduct a material characterization study, also known as a waste audit, to identify areas where food waste is being generated and the opportunities to reduce it. Next, you can implement a food waste diversion program, including strategies such as source reduction, donation and composting.

Technology plays a critical role in managing food waste, from tracking and reporting to streamlining waste management processes. Rubicon offers technology-first solutions that can help businesses track their diversion efforts and comply with regulatory requirements. Additionally, technology solutions can help businesses streamline their waste management processes, reduce waste disposal costs and improve their sustainability metrics.

The importance of site-level education and leadership support

To successfully implement a food waste diversion program, businesses must have buy-in from employees at all levels. Providing site-level education and training on sustainable waste management practices can help employees and customers understand the importance of diverting food scraps.

Building a culture of sustainability can also positively affect employee morale and engagement. Involve employees in the design and implementation of signage that dictates how and where to recycle materials at their location. Provide media, such as training guides and videos, that promote education on the "why" behind these efforts. Similarly, leadership support is essential.

Sustainable waste management practices can also positively affect the community and stakeholders. By involving these groups, businesses can build relationships and increase their visibility in the community. This can lead to positive publicity, increased brand recognition and a stronger connection with their customers and community.

Getting started

In many cases, restaurants and other foodservice businesses want to implement an organics program but don’t know how to start. This creates an opportunity to educate stakeholders on the best practices of organics recycling and composting.

Rubicon works with a vast network of restaurants and other food retailers across the country to help them divert their food waste away from landfills and into recycling streams. Recent success stories include:

  • Sweetgreen: Rubicon is the lead partner for waste, recycling and composting services for Sweetgreen with locations across the United States. In 2022, Rubicon helped the company compost or recycle 79 percent of waste at restaurants where they partner.
  • Wegmans: Wegmans stores have an average recycling rate of 80 percent. With 109 stores participating in the company’s zero waste initiative, Wegmans has donated 32.8 million pounds of perishable and non-perishable food, and it has diverted 73.7 million pounds of food waste away from landfills, according to its 2022 Community Impact Report.

Leslie Rodgers, director of sales and marketing at Atlas Organics, noted during a recent panel discussion featuring Rubicon and Chick-fil-A at the Restaurant Facilities Management Association (RFMA) Annual Conference 2023, that it is best for restaurants to "start small than not at all," because even minor changes in the pursuit of sustainability are a step in the right direction.

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