More and more people are starting to get the message that the massive amount of food we waste in the U.S. is a social issue, not just an environmental one. Even HBO comedian John Oliver took nearly 20 minutes recently on his satire news show, “Last Week Tonight,” to tackle the issue.

It seems an easy fix: Instead of throwing food out, set up a new supply chain to move it from businesses that aren’t going to use it to people who need it. But that process involves additional costs businesses have little financial incentive to take on as well as fear of lawsuits over someone getting sick from spoiled food (something that the 1996 Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act actually protects against).

This week, ClimateWire has a story about how Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut are trying to deal with these problems: by regulating the amount of food businesses can toss in the trash and encouraging them to donate it instead. The article examines progress to date (the regulations have been in place for some time) as well as the marketplace that is emerging as a result, such as the emergence of companies working to make sure more of the food goes to people in need and less to the compost heap. Composting is an easier option for compliance because not as much infrastructure such as cold storage is needed, but, as the article mentions, businesses such as Food for Free collect unwanted food and deliver it to more than 100 programs in and around Boston working to get food to hungry people.

There’s an interesting and important lesson here, as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy points out in the piece. Reducing food waste by using it to feed people who really need it is “a great reminder that solutions to environmental challenges can double as solutions to social challenges.” View Ensia homepage

Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture (Flickr | Creative Commons)