One issue we can all agree on is that food shouldn’t be wasted. Too much time, effort and money goes into growing food for it to be casually tossed into the garbage.
Farmers and ranchers have long been among the best of food recyclers. Vegetables, fruits — and even candy — are repurposed as livestock feed. Organic waste is composted or goes into anaerobic digesters to be turned into natural gas to generate electricity. Every part of a cow, pig or sheep is put to good use when it is slaughtered.
Even the grain left over from making beer are fed to cattle.
Grocery stores also offer day-old bread and other edibles to area food banks and others who feed those in need.
At the same time, it is scandalous to see the amount of food that goes into the trash at some school lunch rooms. Cartons of milk — unopened — are tossed, along with other foods that go uneaten.
Such waste hurts the students, who are missing out on nutritious meals — and taxpayers’ pocketbooks.
Comes now a plan from the folks at the Washington State Department of Ecology to figure out ways to reduce the amount of food that goes into the garbage. The idea is supported by the state Legislature.
In 2015, Washingtonians generated more than 1.1 million tons of food waste, according to the department’s “Use Food Well Washington Plan.” The plan calls for cutting that number in half by preventing people from wasting food, “rescuing” edible food to make sure it gets to the people who need it and “recovering” inedible food waste for animal feed, energy production, composting and other means.
If the food waste reduction goal is met by 2030 the plan estimates a total annual “net financial benefit” of $1 billion.
Some of the plan’s recommendations are common sense. For example, it calls for nationally clarifying the “use by” dates on packaged foods. Many consumers are confused by those labels and toss out perfectly good food just because the date has passed.
The plan also points out that low-grade produce — known as “ugly” food — can be used by food banks and other organizations to feed those in need.
The plan also calls for the Washington Legislature to pass a state tax credit for food donations.
Then the plan pivots away from feeding people and into feeding the state bureaucracy. It proposes a Washington Center of Sustainable Food Management. Housed in the Department of Ecology, it would have a website and work with other levels of government and the public to reduce food waste.
The plan also would spend between $76 million and $497 million a year on these and other efforts.
Once the bureaucracy is expanded, the planners would create what it calls “levers” and ban food waste from landfills or create incentives to stop it.
Other suggestions are more farm-to-school programs, incentives for value-added food processors, setting up community food hubs for farmers and others to use and more anaerobic digesters.
Most of this is good stuff. So good that it’s already being done in many places in Washington and elsewhere.
Growers and processors long ago partnered with food banks and other organizations to help feed the hungry and prevent food waste. It’s good to see the state of Washington get on board, but it needs to find less expensive ways to do it.