Sarah Quintal shares insight on food waste management at WNYSBR panel

Last week, E & E’s Energy & Resiliency Analyst Sarah Quintal was a panelist on the Western New York Sustainable Business Roundtable’s panel discussion, Sifting Through New York’s Organic Recycling Mandate: Methods for Managing Food Waste and Current Processing Options in Western New York. The event highlighted different ways for Western New York businesses to keep food out of their waste stream, and its goal was to connect attendees with the resources and knowledge needed to handle food waste in a responsible and sustainable way.

As a panelist, Sarah shared results from her master’s thesis research on strategies in the hospitality industry to address organic waste. While a master’s student at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, Sarah completed a literature review on sustainability within the U.S. hospitality and accommodations sector, as well as a case study analysis based on interviews with four urban hotels that had on-site organic waste diversion practices in place within the previous five years.

WNYSBR panel discussion
Panelists present during the WNYSBR’s panel discussion, Sifting through New York’s Organic Recycling Mandate: Methods for Managing Food Waste and Current Processing Options in Western New York, on November 19 at the Buffalo Zoo in Buffalo, N.Y.

The panel discussion was held in light of New York State’s new food waste bill, which was passed earlier this year. The bill, officially named the Food Donation and Food Scrap Recycling Act, declares that large generators of food scraps – including restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, and colleges – must donate excess edible food and recycle all remaining food scraps if located within 25 miles of an organics recycler. It’s intended to direct more food to disadvantaged New Yorkers while also addressing greenhouse gas emissions in the state. The bill will become effective on January 1, 2022, and will make New York one of the largest states to pass this kind of mandate.

By volume, organic waste is the largest component of all waste sent to landfills—at 21%—according to the Natural Resource Defense Council. This is a major issue because it then converts to methane, which has more than 25 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide. According to the EPA, landfills are the third-largest source of methane in the U.S. Therefore, diversion of organic waste from landfills presents a significant opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Food waste mitigation in the hospitality industry is really the low hanging fruit of making a strong positive environmental impact quickly in the hospitality industry. Each hotel studied was able to quickly divert huge quantities of food waste through aerobic digesters and was incentivized to continue looking into additional diversion strategies higher up in the EPA food recovery hierarchy.

-Energy & Resiliency Sarah Quintal

The event was held at the Buffalo Zoo and was moderated by the Buffalo Zoo’s Chief Conservation Officer, Tiffany Vanderwerf. It included panelists from the Buffalo Regional NYSDEC office, the University of Buffalo, and the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute. In attendance were small business owners, representatives from universities, educators, and community members.

The Western New York Sustainable Business Roundtable was created in 2014 to help companies in the Buffalo, Rochester, Niagara Falls, and Jamestown areas invest in their economic and environmental future and connect to relevant resources. The organization also educates businesses and communities so that everyone can learn best practices for sustainability. Their overall goal is to create an economically and environmentally resilient Western New York. The WNYSBR has over 53 organizational members, including Panasonic, the New York Power Authority, Niagara Chocolates, Siemens, and the University of Buffalo.

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