Farm to table to landfill? EPA asks nonprofit with Pittsfield office to tackle food waste problem

About one-fifth of what people throw away is food. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the country throws out 38 million tons of food a year. Half of that comes from homes.

PITTSFIELD — The average American tosses out 200 pounds of food waste a year, tying up landfill space and squandering a resource.

The Environmental Protection Agency wants to see that figure cut in half by 2030 — and is asking a nonprofit with a Pittsfield office to help.

The agency is giving nearly $300,000 to the Center for EcoTechnology to encourage businesses, institutions and households to steer uneaten food to new uses, including production of a biogas able to generate electricity.

The EPA project, one of 12 nationwide announced Thursday, builds on efforts by the state Department of Environmental Protection to keep food waste out of landfills, in many cases by collecting and hauling it to "digesters" able to convert organic material into fuel.

"Obviously, it's a tremendous waste of resources," Dennis Deziel, regional administrator for the EPA, said in an interview Thursday. "There is no downside to doing this."

Nationally, $3 million was awarded for similar projects. The grants build on a pilot program run last year in Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

The Center for EcoTechnology will raise awareness about new ways food waste can be used and work to connect sources of waste with operations engaged in reuse. That work will take place not only in Massachusetts, but in states as far south as Maryland. The CET holds contracts with the DEP to do similar work.

John Majercak, president of the CET, said in a statement that his group will extend its work with municipalities, states, business and nonprofits "from Maryland to Massachusetts."

"We will deploy field-tested strategies to increase wasted food diversion, and achieve the economic and environmental benefits that result when tackling this important issue," he said.

"We basically play matchmaker," Lorenzo Macaluso, the CET's director of client services, said in an interview. "And hold their hand through the process."

Massachusetts already requires companies that generate a ton of food waste a week to prevent it from clogging landfills.

Macaluso says many businesses aren't aware that they are required by law to deal with food waste. But, plenty of firms, like small restaurants, fall under the threshold on amounts of waste, and will be candidates for adopting reuse programs.

In Berkshire County, efforts to encourage greater reuse of food waste will be led by Lisa Kohler of the CET's Pittsfield office. The CET also has offices in Northampton and Springfield.

The best example of reuse so far is the "anaerobic digestion" facility in place for several years at Pine Island Farm in Sheffield.

Anaerobic digestion uses microorganisms to break down elements in waste, whether it's food or cow manure, to produce and trap a gas able to generate power. The process also creates a product that can be used to fertilize crops.

On farms, such systems not only lower power bills, they deal with the age-old problem of managing manure.

About one-fifth of what people throw away is food. According to the EPA, the country throws out 38 million tons of food a year. Half of that comes from homes.

Christine Beling, who works for the EPA's Boston office, says the challenge is to build new habits of reuse. After 20 years in the field, she is optimistic.

"People are getting greener," she said. "COVID-19 is making this a hotter issue. It's a mindset. It's amazing how much food we waste per person."

The pitch to reuse rather than reject is gaining, in her view. She notes that Cambridge and Wellesley have food waste collection programs.

Apart from the potential energy gained, reuse can slow the demise of landfills — at a time when it's unlikely that new ones will be approved.

"Not in our lifetimes," she said.

Larry Parnass can be reached at or 413-588-8341.