The topics below represent only a sampling of state policy options to reduce food waste. In 2019, around 30 bills addressing food waste were introduced in 12 states.
The federal bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act shields donors and recovery organizations from criminal and civil liability arising from the age, packaging or condition of donated food. All 50 states have passed their own liability laws, many of which include greater protections.
Nineteen states protect food banks that charge a fee to recipients.
Seven states—Arizona, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Vermont—protect donations directly to people in need.
Three states—California, Nevada and Oregon—provide protection regardless of compliance with certain labeling requirements.
Massachusetts protects the donation of food that has passed its expiration date.
Small farmers and businesses bear a significant expense to harvest, prepare and store food for donation that would otherwise be discarded. While federal tax incentives exist, they can be difficult to claim. State tax incentives can help offset costs for donors of all sizes.
Ten states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Oregon, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia—offer tax incentives for food donations. Arizona offers a deduction, while the others provide credits between 10% and 50% of the value of the donated food.
States can also fund food banks directly. Minnesota’s Farm-to-Food Shelf program received a $1.1 million appropriation from the Legislature in 2017.
The labels on food products—"sell by,” “use by,” “best by,” "enjoy by”—are generally indicators of quality, not safety. Still, many consumers are understandably confused by the dizzying variety of labels, resulting in more food being thrown in the trash.
Aside from infant formula, the federal government does not regulate food date labels. States have filled the void with laws that often create more confusion and some are considering ways to simplify labels and educate the public about what these dates mean.
California enacted legislation in 2017 (AB 954) requiring the state department of food and agriculture to promote the terms “best buy” and “use by” to communicate quality and safety dates, respectively.
Organic Waste Bans
Organic waste bans prohibit entities that generate large quantities of food waste from sending it to landfills. A ban compels food waste generators, (e.g., retailers and foodservice providers), to reduce their output and better handle the waste they are unable to eliminate, either by donation, composting or anaerobic digestion (the process of turning food waste into biogas).
Six states—California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont —have passed laws to keep food out of landfills.
Connecticut, (Conn. Gen. Stat. §15) was the first state to require food scraps generated by large-scale manufacturers to be recycled.
In 2012, the Vermont legislature unanimously passed the Universal Recycling Law (Vt. Stat. Ann. Tit. 10. § 6622), which bans disposal of food waste, in addition to “blue bin” recyclables and yard debris. The law phases in requirements for both residents and businesses, culminating in a full ban by July 1, 2020. Food donations have grown by 40 percent, according to the Vermont Foodbank.
Massachusetts’ ban (Mass. Gen. Laws. Ann. Ch. 25A, § 11F) applies to businesses that generate 1 ton or more of food waste per week. A 2016 study found the ban has generated $175 million in economic activity and created more than 900 jobs for food waste haulers, processors and recovery organizations.
California’s law (Cal. Civil Code §1714.25) mandates recycling. This is part of the state’s commitment to divert 50% of food waste by 2020 and 75 percent by 2025. California has also pledged to recover 20 percent of edible food waste for human consumption.
Rhode Island’s (R.I. Gen. Laws § 23-18.9-17) food waste ban, established in 2016, requires businesses that produce more than 2 tons of organic waste per week to divert such waste from landfills if they are located within 15 miles of a composting or anaerobic facility.
Washington state (Wash. Rev. Code §70.95.815) enacted legislation in 2019 that aims to develop and adopt a wasted food reduction plan by October 2020. The goal of the reduction plan is to cut food waste in the state in half by 2030.
In Maryland, (MD Code, Environment, § 9-1706.1) lawmakers approved a study in 2017 on methods to improve composting infrastructure and divert food waste from landfills. The final report was released in July 2019. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan reaffirmed the state’s commitment to reducing waste, signing an executive order in January 2017 to establish a sustainable materials management policy.