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Webinar Takeaways: Understanding Food Waste Regulations and Compliance

Are you a municipality, county, or a state that is considering food waste regulations and wondering which model to follow, whether that’s California; Boulder, Colorado; Hennepin Country, Minnesota; or the state of Vermont?

Or are you a business that is wondering how to navigate the patchwork of food waste regulations throughout the United States and Canada, or an organics hauler or processor that wants to meet the demands created by these mandates or expand organics recycling infrastructure outside of mandated areas?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, this blog post is for you. Rubicon’s virtual events calendar is in full swing for 2021, with our latest Rubicon-hosted webinar taking place the week before last, focusing on food waste regulations and compliance.

The panel-format webinar featured Rubicon® friends and partners on the food waste and organics recycling side. Hosted by me, Ryan Cooper, a waste diversion manager and the organics recycling lead at Rubicon, I was joined by:

You can watch the full recording of Rubicon’s food waste regulations and compliance webinar below, or keep reading for my three key takeaways from the virtual event:

Takeaway #1: The Benefits of Food Waste Reduction and Diversion

I’ve written at length on food waste in America, and the benefits of food waste reduction and diversion.

Rubicon and Wegmans have rolled out many organics recycling programs together over the years, and I believe this quote from Chris Foote, a 31-year veteran of Wegmans currently operating as the company’s Sustainability Coordinator perfectly encapsulates the importance of this topic:

“We’ve used the term food waste a lot on this call, but I think we need to change the verbiage on it. Food waste is not really a waste product, it is a resource; there is a second use to it. If it’s still safe and edible let’s get it into the hands of people who need it.”

Chris is backed up by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Food Recovery Hierarchy. The Food Recovery Hierarchy prioritizes actions businesses and individuals alike can take to prevent and divert wasted food. As you can see, source reduction, or simply using food in the first place, is number one. This is followed by food donations to those in need, sending food scraps to animal feed, then other beneficial uses including biofuels, anaerobic digestion, and composting.

Takeaway #2: How to View the Regulatory Landscape

Why are we talking so much about food waste, and why are governments making goals and passing legislation around food waste?

In 2018, 103 million tons (206 billion pounds) of food waste was generated in the United States alone, which equates to between 30-40 percent of the food supply, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). While facts and statistics such as these are truly shocking, they beg the question, what are we as a society going to do about it?

Nora Goldstein, a good friend of mine and editor of BioCycle, the pioneering authority for organics recycling started in 1960, noted the following during the webinar:

“One of the things that commercial food waste generators and households very quickly realize once they start focusing on their food waste stream is how much food they’re wasting. There is a significant drop in food waste generation once you recognize that you’re ordering or preparing too much of something.”

While nobody wants governments to over-regulate this industry, food waste regulations and compliance in this area can actually be a jobs creator. Rubicon has interviewed dozens of organics haulers for our Haul of Fame interview series, including Compost Crusader, Veteran Compost, and Atlas Organics, and it has become clear from these interviews, as well as from my own conversations with our hauler partners, that the more organics infrastructure there is, the better.

This doesn’t mean that a stronger regulatory landscape doesn’t come without its challenges. During the webinar Chris touched upon the idea of a phased-in approach to any new food waste regulations, replacing non-compliance penalties when rules first come into effect with re-education and coaching opportunities to help businesses bring themselves up to full compliance.

Equally important is the need for more standardized regulations across the board, so it is easier for businesses operating in different states and municipalities to create as cohesive an approach as possible to their food waste programs.

Takeaway #3: The Challenges of Customer-Facing Solutions

The third key takeaway from Rubicon’s first food waste and organics recycling webinar is how to work with the challenges posed by customer-facing (front-of-house) food waste recycling solutions. Hadley Laughlin, a senior project lead on Chick-fil-A’s Sustainability team noted the following during the webinar:

“You can have visuals on the signage, but for a quick-service restaurant (QSR) space people are in and out, moving quickly, they have kids with them… there’s just a lot of variables at play that can drive those contamination rates higher.”

Hadley noted that at Chick-fil-A, food waste falls into two categories: edible and inedible, and edible food is donated whenever possible:

“In 2020, Chick-fil-A donated over 8.5 million meals to hungry people in our communities, which equated to over 9 million pounds of food waste diverted from landfill.”

Nora jumped in to touch upon the importance of tying in front of house recycling and separation at the K-12 level in schools and other education institutions, with source separation practices that families can follow at home and when eating out. Other opportunities at the local level include linking this education to community gardens and urban farms, where showing how wasted food can help with the creation of new food through the nutrient-rich compost comes to life.

Rubicon’s Regulation Compliance Solution

Rubicon RegWatch™ is a way for organizations to keep abreast of various regulations that might affect them, as well as compliance down to the site level. If your company is ready to take control of your regulatory requirements, request a demo of RegWatch today.

I had a great time hosting Rubicon’s most recent webinar, and I was thrilled to be able to be joined by such esteemed friends and partners on the call.

We received so many great audience questions during the session, and I want to thank everyone who asked a question, and of course, everyone who attended the webinar. If we weren’t able to answer your question during the webinar itself, reach out to me at Ryan.Cooper@Rubicon.com and I’ll do my best to answer your question myself, or I’ll forward your question on to the appropriate person.

To sign up for future events from or attended by Rubicon, and to look back on previous events in which we have been in attendance, take a look at Rubicon’s events page.


Ryan Cooper is a Waste Diversion Manager and the Organics Recycling Lead at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.