Food Residuals Diversion

EPD’s Food Residuals Diversion initiative is housed in the Solid Waste Program's Recovered Materials Unit. According to the most recent data available, food residuals are the largest single category of solid waste being disposed in Georgia’s landfills. EPD’s goal of recovering “wasted food” destined for landfills aligns with U.S. EPA’s 2030 Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal based on the Food Recovery Hierarchy through the recovery of food and valuable organic resources and composting.

Recovering Wasted Food

What is wasted food?

According to EPA, the term “wasted food” describes food that was not used for its intended purpose. Examples include unsold food from retail stores; plate waste, uneaten prepared food, or kitchen trimmings from restaurants, cafeterias, and households; or by-products from food and beverage processing facilities. EPA uses the overarching term “wasted food” instead of “food waste” for food that was not used for its intended purpose because it conveys that a valuable resource is being wasted, whereas “food waste” implies that the food no longer has value and needs to be managed as waste.

How does this impact Georgians?

Based on the most recent data available, food residuals makes up 12 percent – or more than 800,000 tons – of the waste sent to Georgia landfills each year, with approximately 48% coming from the greater Atlanta area. This represents the largest single category of solid waste going into Georgia’s landfills. Organic materials sent to landfills not only increase the size of the landfills, but also contribute to methane emissions in the United States, according to EPA.

Feeding America’s 2014 Hunger in America and State Report for Georgia found 1 in 7 people in our state are food insecure. That’s an estimated 755,400 people in Georgia who rely on food pantries and meal service programs to feed themselves and their families each year. According to EPA’s Excess Food Opportunities Map, resources are available to close this loop in Georgia and create paths toward sustainable food systems.

What steps can we take?

EPD recommends following EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy as a means to prioritize the recovery of wasted food. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including source reduction, donations to feed people, creating animal feed, composting, industrial uses, or as a last resort, sending to combustion facilities or landfills. Other steps include: 

  • Buy local and support Georgia Grown food. Not only will you be reducing your food’s carbon footprint by purchasing fresh food, you'll also be supporting local economies and contributing to the growth of sustainable food systems.
  • Support local food banks. The Georgia Food Bank Association maintains a list of Georgia’s food banks and the counties they serve.
  • Participate in EPA's Food Recovery Challenge. By joining this challenge, organizations can pledge to improve their sustainable food management practices.

Food Paths Workshops: Learn how to reduce wasted food

EPD’s Recovered Materials Unit hosts Food Paths workshops in conjunction with partner agencies and organizations with the goals of providing education on management strategies for wasted food and, ultimately, diverting organic materials from Georgia’s landfills. The inaugural workshop was held August 20, 2019 in Atlanta. Below are materials from the event: 

Current Food Paths partners include: U.S. EPA Region IV - Sustainable Materials Management, Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and Resilience, Kroger Zero Waste Zero Hunger, U.S. Green Building Council-Georgia, Georgia Recycling Coalition, Atlanta Community Food Bank, Emory University Center for Ethics, Atlanta Public Schools, Second Helpings, CompostNow, Rowdy Elephants, Goodr, Rubicon Global, and more!

If you are interested in hosting a Food Paths workshop in your community, or in becoming a Food Paths partner, contact the Recovered Materials Unit Manager, Lena Chambless.

Composting

What is compost?

Composting is nature’s way of recycling. It is the natural decomposition of organic material (from plants and animals) such as leaves, yard trimmings, and food waste  (e.g., fruit and vegetable scraps). Microorganisms and insects break down this material into compost – a crumbly, dark-colored, earthy-smelling, soil-like material. Compost is a nutrient-rich product that can be used in your garden and flower beds and on your lawn.

How can I start composting at home?

EPD encourages the composting of acceptable organic materials as a means of diverting organics from landfills. Under the Georgia compost rules, backyard composting is exempt from state regulation. If you don't have the space to compost at home, there are businesses that offer pick-up services. Some local community gardens also might accept your kitchen scraps. If you are interested in backyard composting, there are many websites and documents that offer guidance, including:

How can I find a composting business or compost hauler?

Additional Resources