By Jeanne Herb
The New Jersey State Policy Lab and the Organics Workgroup of the NJ Climate Change Alliance have partnered to inform the development of statewide public policy aimed at reducing food waste, contributing to food security, and reducing landfill organic wastes. This work supports the reduction of methane emissions, a potent contributor to global warming. This collaborative project was a follow-up to the Alliance’s release of a Sustainable Organic Material Management Plan for New Jersey, which outlined potential policy efforts related to food waste reduction and donation, food waste management in schools, community-scale composting, large scale organics recycling infrastructure, and sustainable animal manure management.
The final report is being posted on the websites of the New Jersey State Policy Lab and the New Jersey Climate Change Alliance. This report outlines potential public policies for consideration in New Jersey based on experiences in state and municipal government, the healthcare sector, the nonprofit sector, the agriculture sector, the waste management sector, local school systems, and institutions of higher education. The final report outlines 13 research initiatives and key findings that are briefly summarized below, along with an additional section on reimagining prison food systems, a topic that repeatedly emerged during the research process.
The outcome of this project reinforces something we already know: that decisive climate change action – in this case, the reduction of methane emissions in landfills – can drive substantial benefits to other societal goals including health equity, sustainable economic development, and enhancement of vibrant communities. The research team found that state investment in efforts such as food equity advocacy networks, food rescue transportation/infrastructure, creation of food policy councils, tiered community composting permitting, co-digestion facility development, and enhanced institutional food recycling result in opportunities for improved organics waste policy that contribute to New Jersey’s efforts to attain climate change goals and to address food security.
This effort reinforces two other important observations. First, solutions to some of the most “wicked” challenges facing New Jersey demand examination through a systems lens. This means that the most high-impact and sustainable solutions connect various sectors – food security, waste, and climate change. Second, the next generation of public policy leaders in New Jersey, including the Rutgers graduate students that led this research effort, must have the necessary skills and capacity to apply a systems lens to advance meaningful and equitable solutions that benefit all of us who call New Jersey home.