By Dan Ruben
According to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, discarded food comprises 19 percent of what Massachusetts residents and businesses throw in the trash each year – making it the single largest material in the state’s solid waste stream.
A lot of things are wrong with that. Among them is the fact that landfills (where a lot of tossed food ends up) are ranked by the US EPA as the third largest emitters of methane, a greenhouse gas which, while shorter lived in the atmosphere, is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In recognition of that point, the City of Boston’s Zero Waste policy is included as an important element in the City’s Climate Action Plan.
But the obvious and most compelling reasons for finding alternatives to trashing food are human ones. According to Project Bread, nearly one in 10 of Massachusetts households – some 266,500 families – experience some level of “food insecurity” – defined by the US Department of Agriculture as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.”
The Commonwealth took action a few years ago to stem the food waste tide, enacting regulations that prohibit institutions producing more than a ton of food waste per week from discarding it in landfills. Instead, places such as supermarkets, schools, and hospitals must find other uses for it, such as sending it to facilities that compost it or use it to generate energy through anaerobic digestion; sending it to farms for animal feed; and sending useable food to hunger relief agencies.
As manager of the hospitality segment of the Boston Green Ribbon Commission’s (GRC) Commercial Real Estate Working Group, I am pleased to report that the useable food donation aspect of this policy recently got a big boost in the Boston area from an organization called Rescuing Leftover Cuisine (RLC), which makes it easier for large and small prepared food waste producers to donate their unused food to local soup kitchens and shelters. RLC’s volunteer platform provides this streamlined process, and there is no minimum amount for pickup.
Hotels such as the Westin Boston Waterfront, Sheraton Commander, and Taj Boston have participated as food donors with the RLC program. Donors enter descriptions of surplus fresh and/or prepared food on the RLC website, and then store it at the proper temperature until RLC volunteers pick it up and deliver it to sites that give food freely to those who need it. RLC notes that food donors don’t risk civil or criminal liability, thanks to the 1996 Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. In addition, donors can receive enhanced tax savings through IRC Section 170(e)(3); RLC provides all of the necessary documentation.
The Westin Boston Waterfront began donating leftover prepared food through this process on September 1, 2017, and in the first two months contributed approximately 1,500 pounds of useful food to organizations such as Rosie’s Place.
RLC’s entry into the Boston area complements other efforts underway across the region to rein in food waste. GRC member Harvard University has been working with the non-profit Food for Free to boost food recovery and curb food insecurity in Cambridge and Boston. Since they began, in 2014, Harvard University Dining Services and the Harvard Food Literacy Project have donated an average of 40,000 pounds of food annually – the equivalent of approximately 30,700 meals per year. In addition, the efforts of Lovin’ Spoonfuls has had a tremendous impact on large-scale food recovery throughout Massachusetts. And two hotels, Fairmont Copley Plaza and the Lenox Hotel, donate prepared food directly to the Boston Rescue Mission.
Dan Ruben is director of Boston Green Tourism, and a member of the Boston Green Ribbon Commission’s Commercial Real Estate Working Group.« go to news