Businesses to donate unused food under Gainesville’s ‘zero waste’ rule

Good News Notes:

Restaurants and grocery stores will be required to donate food they don’t use to food pantries or turn it into compost instead of throwing it in the dumpster under one of several of Gainesville’s new sweeping zero waste ordinances.

Those requirements are among one of three proposed laws approved by the Gainesville City Commission on Thursday.

The ordinances require one more reading before taking effect and are designed to significantly reduce waste going to the landfill.

Another proposal would require that food that has not yet expired be given to people or animals first before being composted, which City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said is a “big” deal.

“They will have to get (the food) to people who are hungry, so it is a major step in that direction of not wasting edible food and making sure that people in our community don’t go hungry,” Hayes-Santos said.

The commission adopted the recommendations from the “Zero Waste Subcommittee,” which includes residents and city employees who have met regularly since September 2020.

“We are going to have one of the most significant food waste diversion programs in the country, which will require grocery stores and restaurants to donate edible food to food pantries,” said Mike Heimbach, sustainability manager for the city on Friday.

“There are some significant changes to how we are going to handle our waste going forward in the city, and it’s across pretty much all aspects of solid waste,” he said.

Heimbach said decomposing food waste in the landfill generates about 80 times more greenhouse gases than if it was processed in a different way.

The zero-waste policy was modeled after other city ordinances, such as San Francisco and Denver, though Heimbach says Gainesville has arguably the most comprehensive food waste plan in the southeastern part of the country.

The new plan requires businesses that typically dispose of more than one cubic yard of food — or about two full-size garbage bags — per week to now separate the food from the regular trash stream.

Food could then be donated to a pantry, if not outdated, or picked up by a company to use for compost. Business owners, however, would be on their own to foot the bill for compost pickup.

“There is an ability (for a business owner) to save money by doing this and not paying for food to go to the landfill,” Heimbach said.

Violators of the ordinance could receive a citation of $125 for an offense, but the city hopes for voluntary compliance, Heimbach said….”

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