BioCycle World

BioCycle January 2016, Vol. 57, No. 1 p. 6

California Governor’s Proposed Budget Increases Funding For Organics Recovery

On January 7, Gov. Jerry Brown released his budget for 2016-17, which now includes $3.1 billion in cap-and-trade spending — including some left over from last year. Allocation of these funds includes $100 million for the Department of Resources, Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) to provide financial incentives for capital investments that expand waste management infrastructure, with a priority in disadvantaged communities. Investment in new or expanded clean composting, anaerobic digestion, fiber, plastic and glass facilities is necessary to divert more materials from landfills, states the budget document. This funding is under the umbrella of reduction in short-lived climate pollutants such as methane. The California Department of Food and Agriculture is allocated $55 million of cap and trade funds for the Department of Food and Agriculture’s Climate Smart Agriculture/Healthy Soils and Dairy Digesters initiatives.

BioCycle Food Recovery Workshop

BioCycle, in collaboration with CalRecycle, is organizing a one-day workshop on Food Recovery, April 4, 2016 in San Diego, California. The Workshop is part of BioCycle’s 30th Anniversary West Coast Conference (BioCycle WEST COAST16), April 4-7 at the Town & Country Resort in San Diego. The workshop is bringing together stakeholders to learn about innovative tools, public policies, programs and outreach and educational initiatives to prevent wasted food and increase rescue and donation of edible food. Participants will also identify infrastructure that needs to be put in place to facilitate prevention, rescue and donation. Visit for agenda updates.

Crop Residue Application To Soils

A debate swirling around in the intersection of food recovery efforts and agricultural soil nutrition is whether nonharvested seconds (or “uglies”) in crop production should be harvested and sold/donated or tilled into the fields to restore soil nutrients. Crop residues are a major organic waste stream, with annual production of about 74 million tons of dry crop residues produced worldwide.

These residues are a source of nutrients, which can positively influence the biological, chemical and physical properties of soil. Their incorporation into the soil increases nitrogen mineralization as well as organic carbon and total nitrogen in soil. In this context, several studies have shown that the incorporation of crop residues into tilled soil improves tilth, reduces erosion, prevents nutrient losses by run-off and leaching, and increases microbial biomass. However, incorporation of excessive residues as a soil amendment may have adverse impacts on soil, environment and crop yield because many soil functions require mature and stable organic matter. Another risk is the spread of potentially damaging crop diseases. Burying crop residues can destroy some pathogens, if plowed in deeply enough, but some pathogens can survive, and even benefit from this process if it serves to spread them throughout the field.

The increasing calls for food waste reduction are spurring reexamination of the practice of soil incorporation versus field gleaning to capture still edible food. BioCycle asked colleagues familiar with both practices for their views. “I think the underlying issue has more to do with a grower’s intention for managing a piece of land,” explains JoAnne Berkencamp of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who has researched this topic. ”The growers we interviewed consistently preferred to generate a financial return by selling the product (even at “imperfect prices”) rather than getting the fertility benefits of plowing it under. We also asked growers if, for instance, they could recover 10 cents per pound by donating excess/imperfect product, how would that compare to the fertility benefits of plowing the product under. Growers’ thinking about whether to donate or not generally revolved around labor constraints, delivery issues and the ability of local food pantries to handle fresh produce. I didn’t hear any growers say that the soil fertility benefit was a deterrent to donation. A few who have farmed the same land for generations make it a practice to remove all of the crop whether it will be sold or not to prevent plant diseases.”

Rick Carr, Compost Production Specialist at the Rodale Institute observes: “We experience surpluses often on our farm and discuss this each year on how to handle them. If we can find a market (e.g., farmers markets, restaurants, etc.) that will buy it then we will make every effort to get it sold. However, those markets tend to want 50 lbs of tomatoes each week, not 20 lbs here or 20 lbs there. If we cannot get it sold but the material is still good it will get donated. At the very least, we almost always will remove it from the field.”

Court Supports Biosolids Recycling On Farms

On December 21, 2015, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously dismissed nuisance and negligence claims brought by the plaintiffs alleging that odors from fertilizing a farm with biosolids created a nuisance. Specifically, the Court’s decision in Gilbert v. Synagro (Gilbert) held that 1) Land application of biosolids is an accepted agricultural activity protected from untimely litigation by Pennsylvania’s Right to Farm Act (RTFA); 2) Plaintiffs failed to bring their lawsuit within the one-year time period allowed by the RTFA; 3) A judge, not a jury, should apply the provisions of the RTFA so that the decision on whether a farmer and its contractors can be sued is made promptly at the beginning of a case; and 4) Odors from farms that cross property lines are not a trespass and that a plaintiff cannot complain that nuisance conditions at a farm constitute negligence.

The Court concluded in Gilbert that fertilizing crops and improving soil with biosolids is a normal agricultural practice because it has been pursued successfully across Pennsylvania and the United States for many years. The Gilbert opinion canvassed numerous statistics on the volume of biosolids recycled to farms and noted that Pennsylvania has permitted over 1,500 farms for land application. The Court discussed in particular the City of Philadelphia’s long time commitment to biosolids recycling and land application in Pennsylvania. It also looked to the recognition of land application as a lawful and regulated practice and decided there could be no factual dispute that farm use of biosolids is a normal agricultural operation protected under the RTFA. Numerous cities, farmers, trade associations and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania agencies filed briefs supporting the plaintiff’s arguments and played a critical role in the outcome of this important case.

Federal Legislative Changes To Encourage Food Donation

In November 2015, the Harvard University Food Law and Policy Center (FLPC) and the Food Recovery Project (FRP) at the University of Arkansas School of Law, published a guide to the federal enhanced tax deduction for food donations, in which they noted that one challenge with the federal enhanced tax deduction is that it was only permanently authorized for C-corporations, but not for other businesses. In mid-December, Congress passed an important piece of tax legislation as part of the fiscal year 2016 Omnibus budget that addressed this challenge. The extension and modification of the charitable deduction for contributions of food inventory contains four significant changes, note FLPC and FRP:

Permanently extends the enhanced tax deduction for food donations: Businesses that were not organized as C-corporations were previously only eligible for the general deduction for charitable contributions. The general deduction only allows the business to deduct the basis value (or the cost to the business of acquiring the product). The enhanced deduction allows a business to deduct the smaller of (a) twice the basis of the donated food or (b) the basis of the donated food plus one-half of the food’s expected profit margin, if it were sold at its fair market value (FMV).

Increases the deduction’s cap to 15% of the donor’s net income: Previously, the enhanced deduction limited total deductions for food donations to not more than 10 percent of a business’ total taxable income each year. The 2016 budget increases the cap to 15 percent of the donor’s net income, starting in 2016.

Provides certain taxpayers a new optional formula for calculating the enhanced deduction: Beginning in 2015, the formula for calculating the enhanced tax deduction will allow certain donors to calculate the Basis Value, or the cost of acquiring the donated food, at 25 percent of the products’ FMV. This new provision helps to ensure that donors who use different accounting methods can qualify for the enhanced deduction by electing to receive a fixed basis value for their goods.

Provides a formula for determining the FMV of food inventory that cannot be sold because of failure to meet internal standards, lack of a market, or similar reasons: Under these circumstances, a business can calculate the FMV of these products by using the price of the same or substantially similar food items that are being sold by the business. Previously, it was unclear whether the food was still worth its original FMV for purposes of claiming the deduction or whether its market value had decreased because of its defect. The new standard will allow these businesses to claim an enhanced deduction based on a more accurate FMV.

MSW And The Low Carbon Economy

A new report, “Potential Contribution Of Waste Management To A Low Carbon Economy,” finds that the role waste prevention and improved waste management play in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and development of a low carbon economy has previously been significantly understated, partly due to the structure of the national inventories of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The report was commissioned by Zero Waste Europe, in partnership with Zero Waste France. It confirms that actions at the top of the waste hierarchy — including waste prevention initiatives, reuse and recycling — have considerable scope to reduce climate change emissions. “A climate friendly strategy, as regards materials and waste, will be one in which materials are continually cycling through the economy, and where the leakage of materials into residual waste treatments is minimised,” write the authors. “For example, recycling 1 tonne of plastic packaging can be a saving of 500 kg CO2 equivalent, whereas using one tonne less plastic packaging results in avoiding 6 times more emissions (3 tonnes CO2 eq).”

Eleven key recommendations are made, calling for waste policies to be redesigned in order to prioritize the higher level options of the waste hierarchy (prevention, reuse and recycling) and immediately reallocate climate finance subsidies that currently support energy generation from waste combustion. There is a strong focus on correcting methodological issues that currently prevent European Member states and the European Union (EU) from implementing waste policies that are efficient in terms of GHG emissions. In the decarbonizing economy required to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, technologies such as incineration will become less attractive options.

“For far too long the climate impact of waste management has been overlooked,” notes Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe’s Associate Director. “Now it’s clear that waste prevention, reuse and recycling are climate change solutions that need to be fully integrated into a low carbon economy. Both at the EU and international level, it is time to shift climate finance support to these climate-friendly options instead of waste incineration, which in fact contributes to climate change and displaces livelihoods of recyclers worldwide.” Delphine Lévi Alvarès, Zero Waste France’s Advocacy Officer, noted that COP21 [climate change summit] in December was a real opportunity to raise decision makers’ awareness about the real impact of waste management on climate change and the extent to which Zero Waste strategies have to be put on the agenda of solutions to climate mitigation.

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