One of the most maddening aspects of modern life is the way we deal with food. Too many of our neighbors don’t have enough of it. The rest of us waste too much of it. On top of those obscenities, our mindlessly discarded food ends up in landfills, where it decomposes and releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide.
For the second consecutive year, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is targeting food waste in his proposed budget. And this plan is even better than last year’s version. It’s time for the state’s Legislature — in particular, the state Senate — to join the campaign.
The numbers make a compelling argument for action in New York and throughout the country. In America, we waste an estimated 40 percent of the food we produce, about $218 billion worth. Saving one-third of that would yield enough food to feed all 42 million Americans who suffer from hunger. Of that group, 2.5 million are New Yorkers, including nearly 300,000 on Long Island. More than one-third are children. If Nassau and Suffolk counties redirected 5 percent of unused food to those who need it, that would provide 25 million meals per year for people who go hungry.
Cuomo’s plan would require any organization generating more than 2 tons of excess food per week to donate edible items to a hunger-relief organization such as a food bank, and to recycle the rest through composting or anaerobic digestion. The tonnage mandate is smart; it applies to about 1,700 large generators statewide, including hospitals, supermarkets, colleges, hotels and prisons that collectively waste about 400,000 tons per year, while exempting, for example, small restaurants and groceries. New York City, which has its own recycling plan, also is exempt.
The proposed law would boost funding by $8 million over the earlier plan to help generators, food banks and municipalities with new equipment and other preparations. Other improvements: hardship waivers for entities that, for example, make good-faith efforts but can’t find carters to haul their scraps, and mileage waivers to those more than 40 miles from a facility that can accept their food; the previous limit was 50 miles.
The program would begin in 2021 — good timing for Long Island. Construction should begin this summer in Yaphank on an anaerobic digester, a facility that will be able to accept 180,000 tons of food waste per year and convert it into compost while producing 6 megawatts of electricity. It should be operational by late summer 2019.
Some large food users and producers already are helping. Long Island’s farmers, many supermarkets, NYU Winthrop Hospital and Olive Garden restaurants are among those donating excess food. But the state’s 10 regional food banks — including Island Harvest and Long Island Cares on Long Island — recover only a fraction of excess edible food. There’s room for improvement. And not only for businesses. All of us have an obligation to cut down on what we waste in our own homes by eating what we buy or buying less.
More food for the hungry, less space taken in landfills, reduced methane emissions, fewer trucks carting garbage off the island, less air pollution, more energy — that’s a recipe for success.