Nearly 70% of surplus food is treated as true “waste,” meaning it is either left in the fields after harvest, incinerated, dumped, deposited in the sewer, sent to landfill, or applied to the land – much of this could have been used for other purposes. In fact, recycling offers one of the largest opportunities for decreasing the amount of food going to waste in our food system.
Recycling anything remaining means capturing nutrients, energy, or other residual value by finding the highest and best use for any food or food scraps that remain. Solutions in this action area range from mature practices of feeding food scraps to livestock, to modern innovations such as insect farming. Solutions that make use of existing food for other creatures are preferable to the next category of recycling, which requires processes including composting, anaerobic digestion, and co-digestion at water treatment plants to break down the materials for their more basic nutrients. Alternatively, innovative markets for waste-derived bioplastics, agricultural inputs, and other industrial uses model the development of circular economies that can capitalize on existing wasted materials for new products, fuels, packaging materials, and more.
For the successful diversion of waste, policy has a key role to play by disincentivizing or banning food in landfills, a movement that has gained ground in seven states across the country. Commercial and Government Project Finance can effectively bolster solutions related to infrastructure developments, and combined can cover a majority of the funding needed. Public funding will be critical to incentivize business engagement in new operations and fund local collection programs. Lastly, philanthropic and private investments can be catalytic in bridging the gap for financing specific portions of projects (i.e. purchasing equipment) and investing in the research and scaling of emerging solutions.