Americans generate more than 100 billion pounds of food waste each year. Gov. Chris Christie has signed a package of bills that would give the state Departments of Environmental Protection and Agriculture one year to come up with a plan for reducing, reusing or recycling the state’s share of that garbage. As part of our on-going series Peril and Promise: The Challenge of Climate Change, the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Bob Smith, joins Correspondent Lyndsay Christian.
Christian: Sen. Smith, thank you for joining us this afternoon.
Smith: Thank you.
Christian: So let’s talk food waste. You are the chairman of the Environment and Energy Committee and you’ve sponsored a bill that would aim to reduce food waste in the state by 50 percent over the next 13 years. That’s a pretty lofty and ambitious goal, senator. What is the plan on action to accomplish this?
Smith: Well, the legislation that passed sets exactly that goal for the state of New Jersey and says to the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Energy that they need to start putting a plan together to get that 50 percent reduction. One of the things that’s usually startling to people in this country is to know that they waste about 40 percent of the food that’s on their tables every year. That amounts to about 160 billions pounds of food wasted every year. And that’s in the context of an awful lot of families who are food insecure and having a tremendous impact on the environment. Our federal government estimates that we have more than 42 million people who are considered to be food insecure. People don’t think about food in terms of its environmental impact, but food consumes a great deal of water, fertilizers, uses fuel to be produced and when it decays there’s a whole bunch of greenhouse gas emissions that affects global climate change. So food has a tremendous impact on the planet and everything we can do to reduce food waste is good and can be used to help food insecure families and can also be used to the reduce the impact on the environment. That’s why Sen. Linda Greenstein and I co-sponsored this bill. We feel very strongly that the state of New Jersey has a role to play in reducing food waste.
Christian: Sen. Smith, you touched on several points — global climate, food insecure families — but I want to hit home on how as consumers can we help to achieve this goal of reducing food waste? What can we do at home, what can we do at work to really make this happen?
Smith: Obviously there are some common sense things, like actually planning what meals you’re going to consume at home, buying the appropriate quantities. It will be very important as well for the food industry to have proper labeling so that various types of food and the containers in which they’re placed can be donated to food insecure families, so there needs to be some uniformity in labeling. We also need to set up in New Jersey, or encourage to set up in New Jersey, food recycling facilities. And one of the bills in this package, there were actually five or six bills in this package that we passed, that are on the table right now for the food waste problem, one of them encourages the establishment of food recycling facilities from large waste generators. If they generate more than 52 tons a year, then they’re required to take it to a food recycling facility and then the food recycling facility can convert it either into energy materials or into compost. But doing that, and also we have legislation that provides tax credits for people who donate food. There’s also some liability legislation to protect anyone who does want to donate. And then finally, we have a request for suggestions and guidance from our various state departments to colleges, universities and schools so that they can reduce food waste in those institutions. So there’s just a pile of things that can be done to reduce food waste.
Christian: Thank you for outlining those. So we know as consumers there are some ways we can contribute to this legislation to achieve the goal as a state to reduce food waste by 2030 as you noted. I wanted to talk a little more about global warming. Food waste in landfills emits methane, which obviously is one of the more potent greenhouse gasses contributing to global warming. I just want you to say, maybe in one sentence, how damaging is food waste is to our environment?
Smith: Well, methane as a gas has 20 to 30 times more impact than carbon dioxide. These are greenhouse gasses, meaning that they form a layer in the earth’s atmosphere that retains heat and causes global warming. You just recently saw a major chunk of our polar ice caps breaking off because of these rising temperatures. We’re seeing more and more super storms, like Superstorm Sandy. So global climate change is a real threat to humanity and every time we can reduce methane production into the atmosphere, or even carbon dioxide production into the atmosphere, we are helping to stabilize and decrease the rate at which our planet is warming. That’s why it’s important, for example, with food waste, you can put it what’s called an anaerobic digester, and the anaerobic digester will create methane, but it will all be contained and then burned as a fuel to generate electricity and in that way reduce the methane emissions into the atmosphere. This is one of the many ways that we can help make this better for all of us.
Christian: Sen. Smith, we want to thank you for your time this afternoon in addressing a very critical issue as it relates to our environment.
Smith: Thank you.
Lead funding for Peril and Promise is provided by Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and Diana T. Vagelos. Major support is provided by Marc Haas Foundation.