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Senate Approves Food Waste Reduction Bill Package

TRENTON- A three-bill package to address food waste reduction, to mitigate climate change and reduce hunger in New Jersey was approved yesterday by the Senate. The bills would set a goal to halve food waste in the coming years, bring awareness to food date labeling and encourage food donation, among other actions.

Americans waste a shocking amount of food every year with as much as 40 percent of the food in the U.S. going uneaten. This accounts for 160 billion pounds of food wasted each year. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture these statistics are made even worse when you consider that 42.2 million Americans live in food insecure households. Apart from the human cost, reducing food waste is beneficial for the environment; reducing water, fertilizer, and oil use, and greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Food waste in the United States produces the annual equivalent greenhouse gas emissions of 33 million passenger vehicles.

“Our goal of creating a sustainable future for our residents must be closely focused on reducing hunger in New Jersey and working to curb climate change by moving towards a responsible production and consumption model,” said Senator Bob Smith (D-Middlesex, Somerset), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee.  “Wasting food does not make economic or environmental sense. In the United States, millions of tons of food that are still fit for consumption are wasted and dumped. It is incumbent upon us to take action. As a State, we need to reduce food waste. Together, we can reverse this unacceptable trend and have a healthier New Jersey and create a sustainable future for our residents.”

“This package of legislation is an intelligent alternative to better our environment and reduce hunger in our State,” said Senator Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer and Middlesex). “We have a problem with waste in this country, and recycling solid waste is a viable solution that will produce energy to provide to our homes, schools and businesses. The reduction in food waste not only solves the problem of hunger we have in the State, but it also is a start on the right direction to reduce the problems that are damaging our environment. We need food conservation and taking care of our environment to be our children’s natural instinct, not an afterthought.”

The Senate approved the following bills:

•          S-3027 (Smith/Greenstein) – Aims to reduce by 2030 the amount of food waste generated in the state by 50 percent. The bill requires the Department of Environmental Protection in consultation with the Department of Agriculture to develop and commence implementation of a plan to accomplish this goal within a year.

•           Senate Committee Substitute for S-2360/S-3030 – (Allen/Greenstein/Bateman/Smith) – Would require the Department of Agriculture to develop voluntary guidelines to encourage school districts and institutions of higher education to donate excess food. The bill would also extend “Food Bank Good Samaritan Act” protections to school districts.

•           S-3026 (Smith/Thompson) – Clarifies and expands liability protection for food donors and gleaners to donations made to any person. Under the bill, nonprofit organizations that collect or glean agricultural food for the purposes of feeding needy people would not be held liable for damages in any civil action due to the presence or activity of the organization or volunteers unless the damage is a direct result of a gross negligence, recklessness or knowing misconduct of the nonprofit organization or volunteer.

Three additional bills in the package were recently passed by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and are making their way through the legislative process.

•           S-771 (Smith/Bateman) – Requires large food waste generators, to separate and recycle food waste and amends definition of “Class I renewable energy.” Large food waste generator means any commercial food wholesaler, distributor, industrial food processor, supermarket, resort, conference center, banquet hall, restaurant, educational or religious institution, military installation, prison, hospital, medical facility, or casino that produces at least 52 tons per year of food waste. The requirements would take effect beginning in 2019 for those located within 25 miles of an authorized food waste recycling facility that generates an average projected volume of 104 or more tons per year of food waste and in 2022 for those producing an average projected volume of 52 or more tons per year of food waste. The Senate amended the bill Thursday to remove the exemption for large food waste generators currently sending waste to a landfill.

•           S-3012 (Lesniak/Oroho) – Would allow taxpayers to deduct charitable food donations from business inventory for their gross income taxes. The contribution must be made to an organization that is determined by the Internal Revenue Service to be an organization eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions.

•           S-3028 (Smith/Greenstein) – Would standardize food date labels and require the Department of Health to create a public education program on food date labeling and establish guidelines related to food safety.  Under the bill, a manufacturer could use: 1) a “quality date” label to indicate the date after which the quality of a food product may begin to deteriorate, but is still acceptable for consumption; or 2) an “elevated-risk date” to indicate the date, established by manufacturer, after which there is a high level of risk associated with the consumption of a food product.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2012, the United States threw away more than 36 million tons of food; from that, less than 5 percent was recycled. Much of it ended up rotting in landfills, releasing methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas which contributes to climate change. The EPA estimates that if 50 percent of the food waste generated each year in the U.S. were anaerobically digested, enough electricity would be generated to power 2.5 million homes for a year.

All of the bills cleared the Senate and now head to the Assembly for further consideration.