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No Food Scraps to Landfill, Says New Austin Law

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons, ZeroWasteScotland

Restaurants in Austin, Texas, are no longer able to dispose of food waste in landfills due to a new law that took effect on October 1; the law is designed to help the city meet its goal of zero waste by 2040. All food-permitted businesses must provide convenient access for employees to divert discarded organic material, such as food scraps or soiled paper products, from landfills.

Options for diversion include donating extra food to feed people, sending food scraps to local animal farms or ranches, and developing customized solutions and composting, either on-site or with a private organic collection provider, suggests a press release put out by the city.

The ordinance also requires that business owners/managers provide regular education for employees and post informational signage. Additionally, they must submit an online Organic Diversion Plan each year.

The city conducted a Diversion Study in 2015 which found that more than 85% of Austin’s trash and recycling comes from commercial businesses, multifamily properties and food service establishments. Of the materials sent to landfills, 37% is organic and could have been donated or composted.

The city is offering free, site-specific information, guidance and training on establishing or expanding diversion programs from Austin Resource Recovery, the city’s waste disposal department.

Other cities have undertaken similar initiatives. In Seattle, all residents, buildings and food businesses must use a food waste collection service, for example, the Huffington Post points out.

Kinross Township, in Michigan, is tackling food waste in a big way. One idea? The town’s public works department is considering a plan to combine food waste with wastewater at the local wastewater treatment plant, creating enough gas to power the entire facility. This could save the town as much as $200,000 a year.

Addressing food waste has become a top priority for municipalities around the United States, but how they approach the challenge differs widely. A report from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future published last year found that many government plans for reducing food waste could be strengthened by target-setting, monitoring, and evaluation, as well as by sharing challenges and successful approaches with others.

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