NORTHAMPTON — The Center for EcoTechnology (CET), a local nonprofit organization, has been awarded Top Honor in the North American 2017 Rathmann Challenge, “Mitigating Climate Change: Expanding the Use of Compost,” for its pioneering work over the past 20 years to expand the use of composting to reduce wasted food, which in turn reduces greenhouse-gas emissions.
The announcement of the award was made on Nov. 1 by the Rathmann Family Foundation. The Rathmann Challenge, which was launched in 2014, seeks to advance organizations possessing the creativity, entrepreneurial ethos, and innovative spirit to make a positive difference in the world. CET receives $100,000 for its past work and the exclusive invitation from the Rathmann Family Foundation to apply for an Even Bigger Idea grant of $200,000.
Approximately 40% of all food produced in the U.S. is never eaten, at great cost to communities, the economy, and the environment. Every year, American consumers, businesses, and farms spend $218 billion a year growing, processing, transporting, and disposing of food that is never eaten. About 52 million tons of food is sent to landfills annually; another 10 million is discarded or left unharvested on farms. When disposed of, wasted food creates greenhouse-gas emissions and is a significant contributor to climate change. Meanwhile, one in seven Americans is food-insecure.
“We are honored to be recognized by the Rathmann Family Foundation for our leadership in tackling climate change by keeping wasted food out of landfills,” said John Majercak, president of CET. “And we plan to expand our impact in this area, working alongside our many industry and government partners throughout the region.”
Added Rick Rathmann, executive director of the foundation, “as the recipient of the Top Honor, the Rathmann Family Foundation recognizes the Center for EcoTechnology both for its remarkable past accomplishments as well as the ability to make an even bigger impact beyond Massachusetts to the entire Northeast and the rest of the United States. The Rathmann Challenge engages organizations with a proven track record, forward-thinking ideas, and a willingness to challenge themselves and their professional colleagues to come up with a better solution.”
In 2011, CET worked with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to establish the Massachusetts RecyclingWorks program. RecyclingWorks provides businesses and institutions in Massachusetts with free consultation and expert technical assistance to put into place cost-effective waste-management programs, including composting. In 2014, Massachusetts implemented one of the first statewide food-waste bans in the U.S., banning landfill disposal of organic waste by large-scale producers such as supermarkets and colleges. To date, CET has helped spur an expansion of compost production in Massachusetts by approximately 25,000 tons annually.
CET is embarking on a new, long-term effort to increase its impact by sharing its expertise in wasted food reduction across the Northeast and beyond. The organization has begun performing food-waste-diversion work in Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island, in addition to Massachusetts. CET is also collaborating with the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic to produce a white paper that will share food-waste-diversion information and advice nationally, and developing other national partnerships as well.
“There is a growing awareness of the incredible opportunity that reducing wasted food presents our society,” said Lorenzo Macaluso, director of Client Services at CET. “We’ve learned a lot over the past few decades of doing this work, and we’re getting requests for assistance to replicate what we and our partners have been able to accomplish in Massachusetts. This award will be instrumental in helping us plan and implement similar efforts across the region and nationally.”
Area businesses that would like to learn from CET experts and others about reducing wasted food have an ideal opportunity at the Food Sustainability Symposium on Thursday, Nov. 9, from 3 to 6 p.m. at Mill 180 Park in Easthampton. The event is organized by RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, and the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts. Tickets cost $25 and may be purchased in advance through Eventbrite.
Businesses will learn about food-recovery options across the EPA food-recovery hierarchy, such as source reduction, food donation, animal feed, anaerobic digestion, and composting. Attendees will hear success stories from UMass Amherst, Stop & Shop, the Log Cabin, River Valley Market, and Brew Practitioners about diverting food scraps and surplus prepared food from disposal.
According to Macaluso, there are now more opportunities to cost effectively reduce food waste at businesses in Massachusetts than ever before. “Reducing food waste is great for the environment and often helps boost the bottom line. We have helped facilitate great results from food establishments of all types, and events like these are a great way to learn how to plug into the range of available options.”