An engaged audience and lively discussion at the Green Needham program on reducing food waste marked the beginning of efforts to address the issue in our own town. The October 22 presentation, co-sponsored by the Needham League of Women Voters, not only opened the conversation on what can be done to reduce food waste but also identified people interested in getting together to explore solutions that can be implemented locally.

Green Needham is already working with Wellesley’s 3R group and our respective municipal organizations, and together we have built connections to other neighboring communities. Anyone interested in learning more or joining the effort in Needham should contact Green Needham at info@greenneedham.org.

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The statistics on food waste are shocking. At a time when many Americans suffer from hunger, up to 40% of food of the food in the U.S. goes uneaten — culled as imperfect and unsalable by producers, discarded by grocery stores, uneaten by restaurant & cafeteria customers, and (accounting for 23% of the waste) thrown away in people’s homes. The EPA estimates that in 2013, 95% of the 37 million tons of food waste went either to incinerators to be burned, or into landfills, where it rots and produces methane gas, a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide of the food waste is sent.

As daunting as the problem seems, there are solutions that offer multiple benefits. Joshua Cook, green business specialist for RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts, and Greg Smith, the superintendent of solid waste operations for the town of Needham addressed the problem at the state and local levels. Green Needham and Wellesley’s 3R team collaborated to produce and share Food waste reduction tips for households.

Joshua Cook pointed out that food waste was 19% of the solid waste stream in Massachusetts in 2013. This situation should improve due to a 2014 Massachusetts law providing that businesses and institutions producing more than one ton of food waste per week may no longer dispose of it in the trash.

What can be done with food waste? There is a hierarchy of solutions.

  1. Reduce the volume of waste created. Joshua Cook pointed out that 13 institutions working with LeanPath food waste prevention software have tightened their operations to achieve a reduction of 286 tons annually. Buying only what they need not only reduces waste, it saves money.
  2. Donate unused food to food banks, shelters, and soup kitchens. The federal Good Samaritan Food Donation Act give liability protection to businesses and organizations which donate food in good faith to non-profit institutions.
  3. Put the remaining food waste to use in other ways: anaerobic digestion (producing energy from the methane released from breaking down of food scraps); animal feed; composting; or industrial uses such as rendering (producing other products such as fertilizer, pet food, pharmaceuticals, lard and lubricants).

Needham’s Solid Waste Superintendent Greg Smith focused on Needham’s successful composting program, describing how high quality compost is produced at the RTS. The RTS has improved the process, thans to town meeting’s approval of new equipment and by carefully separating brush from grass clippings and leaves. The “recipe” for compost includes not only yard waste from residents, but also — surprisingly — many tons of food waste from the Plainville Casino and from Patriot Place, adjacent to Gillette Stadium. The composting operation produces an income stream, both from fees charged for accepting the food waste and for sale of the resulting compost. In fiscal year 2105, 927 tons of food waste was turned into compost at the RTS.  The superintendent is looking forward to meeting with local businesses and schools to explore opportunities to process local food waste.

To learn more or to get involved, contact Green Needham at info@greenneedham.org. A follow-up program organized by the Wellesley 3R Working Group on December 8 (7 p.m. at the Wellesley Library) will feature an amazing documentary film Just Eat It as well as remarks by the founder of Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a non-profit organization that collects excess food and gets it to people in need in the Boston area.

You can stream the meeting to your computer (see above) or watch it on The Needham Channel. The program will be re-broadcast regularly until mid-November. To find a re-broadcast time, go to the TNC schedule page and enter “Green Needham” in the search box.

Program on Reducing Food Waste in Needham
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