NY supermarkets will soon be required to donate food to charity

Good news in the garbage world

Last week I wrote about what happened when a group of Portlanders tried to rescue perfectly good food from a grocery store’s dumpster and redistribute it to residents in need. It was a bummer of a story.

This week, I’m writing about an imminent law that will help prevent these types of wasteful practices in supermarkets across New York.

Starting at the end of June, the Excess Food Law (Senate Bill S4176A/Assembly Bill A4398A) will require grocery stores to donate food to non-profit organizations like food pantries/banks and soup kitchens. The organizations will be required to pick up the food from the stores.

Not all of the guidelines around this new law have been specified, but we know that the food donated has to be safe for consumption (not sure how the food in the Portland dumpster would’ve been regarded in this case, so this is kind of vauge). The food could be cut from the shelves, and thus donated, for mistakes in its labeling or appearance or because the store has a surplus.

This is great, if not a long time coming. And its impact could be enormous. According to the Hunter College Food Policy Center (emphasis mine):

Food insecurity affected more than 50 million Americans in 2020, an increase of 13 million since 2018. Much of this increase was due to job losses and the economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. In July 2020, almost one-third of New Yorkers reported not having enough food to eat, and 11 percent reported accessing free food from distribution sites such as food pantries and schools. Without food distribution sites, there would likely be even more New Yorkers struggling with food insecurity. Those sites rely on donations because most are non-profit organizations with minimal budgets for purchases. 

Furthermore, between 30 and 40 percent of all food in the United States is wasted. Eliminating food waste worldwide could feed two billion people, more than double the number of individuals who are currently experiencing food insecurity and hunger.

Therefore, requiring stores to donate excess food to local distribution sites will help mitigate both food waste and food insecurity.  

It’ll be interesting to see how the logistics of this bill play out, and what kinds of roadblocks and successes the new law will incite. It’d be great to see the bill influence other states and maybe inspire similar policy changes, like donation requirements, for fast-casual restaurants and other food merchants. Also, since many retailers span across multiple states in the U.S., it’s possible the companies will be able to learn from this process in NY and introduce it to their stores around the country.

This will be a positive change, but it won’t solve our larger food waste problem.

Supermarkets are responsible for 10% of all food waste (a shit ton!), and most focus on recycling or donating rather than preventing food waste in the first place (here’s an image that helps convey why prevention is so important; basically, it requires so many resources, all for naught).

According to a 2019 report from the Center for Biological Diversity, seven of the 10 largest U.S. grocery chains haven’t taken any meaningful steps in committing to preventing waste.

Kind of funny (not in a haha way) to see Kroger as the store with the best path to zero waste, considering it was a Kroger-owned Fred Meyer store responsible for the dumpster disaster in Portland. If Kroger is our best performer, I can’t help but wonder what kinds of nasty practices the other stores are hiding.

Still, Kroger and Walmart are two of the largest food suppliers to join an initiative called 10x20x30, a private sector commitment that advances the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 12.3, which calls for a 50% reduction in food loss and waste by 2030 worldwide, as Smart Sense reports.

Kroger also has its own Zero Hunger, Zero Waste initiative, which it launched in 2018; it aims to stop its food waste by 2025. Walmart worked to simplify and streamline sell-by dates (which are the cause of a boatload of food waste, read my book ahem) and is developing some neat-seeming tech to reduce waste in many parts of its supply chain.

Let’s just hope this isn’t some greenwashing bull. That would be embarrassing for the retailers/this massively popular blog.

I have a lot more to say but I’m kind of tired. Love u/stay trashy