Senator Saviello, Representative Tucker, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, my name is Ryan Parker and I am the Environmental Policy Outreach Coordinator for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. I appreciate this opportunity to testify in support of LD 1534.
NRCM supports the intent and language of LD 1534, particularly the formation of a Legislative Study Commission that would bring together Mainers with expertise in Maine’s food systems, public sector, hunger relief, and waste disposal to investigate policies that could help Maine meet the goals of our Food Waste Recovery Hierarchy.
Wasted food is a massive issue, globally, and right here in Maine. Forty percent of the food produced for human consumption in the United States is wasted every year. To put this into perspective, imagine going to the grocery store, purchasing five bags full of groceries and dropping two of them in the trash on your way to your car. The 133 billion pounds of food that’s wasted annually in the U.S. could fill Gillette Stadium more than 700 times. This wasted food is worth more than $160 billion, and 97% of it ends up in landfills, where it breaks down anaerobically and produces millions of pounds of methane gas, which is more damaging to the climate than even CO2.
Whether we’re talking about dollars, pounds, or football stadiums, these numbers are shocking. Still, they can seem somewhat abstract when considered at the global and national scale. But food waste isn’t something that only matters on a national scale. It affects Maine and Mainers in important and troubling ways.
A 2011 study by the University Of Maine School Of Economics found 28% of Mainers’ trash is food or food scraps. Like other organic matter, food waste is made up mostly of water. Water weighs eight pounds per gallon. Food and food scraps make up the largest single category of our Municipal Solid Waste, and are incredibly heavy relative to other materials. Paying to ship this heavy material to a landfill or incinerator, where it scarcely belongs, costs our cities and towns millions of dollars annually. Attached to this testimony is an analysis showing how much money thirteen of Maine’s largest cities could save by removing food waste from their trash. Also included is similar analysis of several communities represented by members of this committee. Typically, the cost to ship our trash to landfills or incinerators is covered through property taxes, which adds to the chain of economic waste for Mainers. According to research conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, and highlighted by the EPA, and USDA, the average family of four wastes $1500 per year buying food they never eat.
Beyond the economic and environmental costs, Maine’s level of food insecurity has risen dramatically in the last decade. One quarter of Maine kids and roughly 15% of Maine’s seniors do not have enough to eat on a regular basis. We now have the worst ranking in New England and only eight states in the nation have more hunger than Maine. In particular, children and seniors are facing shocking levels of food insecurity.
When we talk about the intersection between food insecurity and waste, it’s important to understand the distinction between wasted food and food scraps. In addition to the documents attached to this testimony, I’ve brought with me today just a small example of the types of the diverse materials represented by the words, “food waste.” As you can see, most of this is perfectly edible, much of it is unopened, and in many cases, members of this Committee, like the hundreds of Mainers I’ve talked to about this, would be hard pressed to determine why most of this is no longer considered sellable. This food came from a Maine grocery store that is already one of the leaders in reducing food waste at the retail level.
Maine’s Food Waste Recovery Hierarchy provides an excellent framework for ensuring food like this meets its highest use. From large institutions like Hannaford to small, family-owned restaurants, many Maine businesses are trying very hard to reduce food waste and follow the Hierarchy. Clearly, more needs to be done and these leading businesses shouldn’t have to go it alone. The same is true of other food businesses, schools, municipalities, and homeowners. We all contribute to the problem and therefore, must be part of the solutions. And there are many solutions that work, most of them well-vetted by other states.
In October, 2016, the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic released an extensive report documenting food waste reduction policies that have been enacted in states throughout the nation. These include food waste disposal bans, tax credits, liability protections, and educational programs, among others. We know what’s worked in other states, but Maine is unique. Many of these policies would likely benefit Maine but they should be looked at comprehensively by the businesses, municipal officials, schools, legislators and other individuals who know our state, our food, transportation, waste, and hunger relief systems and how policies to reduce food waste could benefit and challenge each.
LD 1534 would bring together a group of stakeholders from multiple sectors with expertise in the many areas. Restaurants, grocery stores, town managers, schools, composters, and policy-makers would have a seat at the table and be able to provide the Legislature with recommendations for Maine-based solutions to this problem.
With millions of dollars wasted, hundreds of thousands of Mainers regularly unable to access enough to eat, and Maine’s landfills being filled with material that harms our air and water, this problem needs to be solved. NRCM urges the Committee to vote “Ought to Pass” on LD 1534. Thank you for this opportunity to provide comments. I would be glad to answer any questions you may have or provide additional information for your work session.