Food Recovery Hierarchy
Minimize Food Waste
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Food Recovery Hierarchy prioritizes actions organizations can take to prevent and divert wasted food.
The top levels of the hierarchy are the best ways to prevent and divert wasted food because they create the most benefits for the environment, society and the economy.
Food Recovery Hierarchy
In California, we work hard to make sure that every ounce of our state's precious resources are carefully managed in order to minimize food waste. Whether oranges are made into orange juice and the leftover pulp is upcycled to animal feed, or a farmer is making a generous contribution to their local food bank, our programs help ensure that we maximize feeding people and minimize food waste in this truly golden state.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture has key programs in place that address Tiers 2, 3, 4 and 5 within the hierarchy.
Feed Hungry People is the second tier of U.S. EPA's Food Recovery Hierarchy. According to the California Association of Food Banks one in four Californians struggles with food insecurity. We can be leaders in our communities by collecting unspoiled, healthy food and donating it to our neighbors in need. By donating food, we're feeding people, not landfills, supporting local communities and saving money.
Feeding Animals is the third tier of U.S. EPA's Food Recovery Hierarchy. This includes recovering organic material generated by commercial food facilities not fit for human consumption as products to feed animals. For decades, the Livestock Feed Industry in California has been a champion in the forward-thinking recovery of food inedible to humans to create high-quality animal feed products. To learn more, please visit CDFA's Safe Animal Feed Education (SAFE) Human Food Waste (By–product) Diversion page.
The fourth tier of U.S. EPA's Food Recovery Hierarchy is Industrial Uses. One industrial use is rendering, which is essentially the process of breaking down animal by-products into fats and proteins that are used in the manufacturing of many products, from animal feed and fertilizers to paints and cosmetics. The rendering industry also plays a vital role to the energy sector and restaurant sector, where inedible kitchen grease is collected and rendered into low-carbon biofuel. In addition, rendering helps divert organic waste from landfills and plays a significant role by protecting the environment and human health. It also contributes to the sustainability of animal agriculture.
Having a Rendering Industry in California is more important now than ever, given new initiatives and laws (SB 1383, Chapter 395, Statutes of 2016) geared toward diverting organic waste from landfills and reducing greenhouse gases. Moreover, rendering is upcycling and California law requires inedible/unprocessed meat and fish scraps to be sent to licensed renderers or CDFA-licensed pet food manufacturers.
The CDFA Animal Health and Food Safety Services Division (AHFSS) Meat, Poultry & Egg Safety Branch's Rendering Program promotes the legal and safe collection, transportation, processing and disposal of dead livestock, animal and fish materials, and inedible kitchen grease.
Information concerning the collection, transportation and recycling of food waste materials, such as raw unprocessed meat, poultry and fish materials – that are not regulated by CalRecycle but regulated by CDFA – is available on the CDFA Rendering Enforcement Program website.
The fifth tier of U.S. EPA's Food Recovery Hierarchy is Composting. Food, agricultural and livestock wastes are rich in organic (carbon-based) materials ideal for compost production. Compost produced from these sources are nutrient-rich soil amendments that can also be used as a fertilizer on farms to enhance growth of plant crops. In addition, compost application on agricultural and rangelands may enhance soil organic matter content, increase soil health and reduce greenhouse emissions. Sequestration of carbon in soil is recognized as an important component of mitigating atmospheric greenhouse gases and mitigating climate change. Composting helps divert organic food and some agricultural waste from landfills that would otherwise lead to methane greenhouse gas production if left to decompose in the landfill. Composting and compost application play a significant role in enhancing the sustainability of crop and livestock agricultural systems.
The CDFA Office of Environmental Farming and Innovation (OEFI) houses two incentive programs involved with compost. The Alternative Manure Management Program assists farmers in producing compost from dairy and livestock manure. The Healthy Soils Program assists farmers in applying compost to croplands and rangelands across California. For information about these and other incentive programs, please visit OEFI.
(*Update: Since this video was made, the U.S. EPA has updated what percentage of wasted food ends up in landfills from 94% to 68%.)
Food Recovery Resources
- U.S. EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy
- U.S. EPA Reducing Wasted Food at Home
- U.S. EPA Facts and Figures about Materials, Waste and Recycling
- U.S. EPA Food Recovery Challenge
- U.S. EPA Sustainable Management of Food
- USDA Food Loss and Waste
- FDA Food Loss and Waste
- CDFA Guide to Segregating & Recycling Packinghouse Waste from Retail Stores
- CalRecycle Preventing Food from Reaching the Landfill
- CalRecycle Food Waste Prevention and Rescue Grant Program
- CalRecycle What is Compost & Mulch, Where & How to Buy It
- CalRecycle Compost and Mulch Use Toolbox
- CalRecycle Home Composting
- Further with Food
- Food Waste Reduction Alliance