Americans waste more than 133 billion pounds of food every year — an estimated $161 billion worth of wholesome and nutritious food buried in landfills and rotting.

The organic matter sent to municipal solid waste landfills like those that dot the Oklahoma landscape begin to decompose after it is buried. It breaks up into liquids, solids and gases, like methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than the carbon dioxide, also released.

About 25% of global warming can be attributed to methane emissions. Data compiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency show landfills are the third-largest source of methane emissions.

In an effort to manage municipal solid wastes and curb landfill emissions, Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality will offer for the first time funding for food waste management projects. Funding will be available to public school districts and universities, municipalities and counties, and tribes for the development of projects in fiscal year 2022.

Patrick Riley, manager of ODEQ's Solid Waste and Sustainability Division, said the agency is looking for projects that would divert food waste from landfills toward re-use or a higher use. Some examples included community food recovery programs and university research projects.

"Wasted food has an environmental impact — the production of food never consumed uses a lot of resources, and if you waste the food, you waste the resources," Riley said. "So one of the things we are trying this year is to manage that waste."

Riley said food waste prevention programs at schools could help reduce the number of food insecure households. Food waste also has been diverted from landfills to livestock operations and other agricultural purposes.

"There is some recovery going on right now," Riley said. "But I am not sure we understand all of the obstacles that keep us from recycling or re-using" food that now goes to landfills and eventually into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases.

Pete Schultz, senior district manager for Waste Management, said any program that would reduce the amount waste that arrives at landfills like the one he manages on the outskirts of Muskogee are "a great thing."

"A landfill permit is like a box: When it fills up there is no more space," Schultz said. "Things you can recycle and reuse will extend the life of a landfill ..., so anytime we can implement programs like this, it's a great thing."

Fenton Rood, who previously worked as environmental programs manager at ODEQ's Land Protection Division, said anything that can be done to "remove those wastes from the landfill stream would be beneficial." He said doing so "would save space and reduce the water impact of the landfill as well."

In addition to reducing the amount and type of waste, Rood said policy makers must begin thinking about issues like extended producer responsibility. The Product Stewardship Institute, he said, advocates for laws that would make companies that "make the products responsible for its end-of-life management."

Details about the solid waste management program funds are available online at https://tinyurl.com/ydsqcmta. The application period will remain open through May 30 for fiscal year 2022 project year, which begins July 1.

Riley said program funding will be available until they are depleted. ODEQ will open subsequent application periods if funds remain available following the first round of applications.

Prospective applicants for the food waste management funding and other solid waste management program funds — illegal dumping issues or the disposal of household chemicals, medications and electronics — may contact Riley by calling (405) 702-5100 or sending a message by e-mail to patrick.riley@deq.ok.gov.

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