Reducing and Recycling Food Waste in Jamaica and the Caribbean: A Regulatory Perspective
Updated: Feb 22
The issues of food loss and food waste continue to cause and exacerbate the pressing challenges of climate change and food security today. 15% of methane pollution is produced by the deterioration of food waste at landfills every year. In addition, one-third of all food produced in the world for human consumption is lost or wasted from farm to fork.
Reversing this trend by implementing solutions that (i) prevent spoilage and excess food production, and (ii) distribute surplus food to insecure communities would preserve enough food to feed 2 billion people, eliminating the growing food security crisis globally and in the Caribbean. Yet, such action and the resources needed to reduce and recycle food waste as well as to create food banks and distribute excess food to those in need remain low and inadequate.
In Jamaica and the Caribbean, the absence of organic waste recycling laws is the main root cause of this lack of action along with the exclusion of social and environmental costs in decision making in favor of higher profits. Without instilling mandates that zero organic waste is sent to landfills, industry and civil society are not adequately motivated to reduce and recycle their food waste. Instead, these activities and food donation efforts are not systemic, and are done by only a few on a voluntary basis.
Fortunately, action on food waste has taken significant traction over the past 10 years in other parts of the globe, particularly through the use of food waste laws and policies, such as organic waste bans and mandates that have advanced with great success food waste reducing and recycling activities (i.e. organic waste diversion from landfills by composting and anaerobic digestion) . By highlighting a few of these examples, we can all take inspiration and assurance that solving food waste issues is achievable, saves resources, and can create immense benefits to society through appropriate regulation.
9 out of 10 Canadian provinces have already implemented a number of policies to increase the diversion of organic waste from landfills. As a result, Canada processed 4.83 million metric tons of organic waste using composting and anaerobic digestion in 2019 with landfill diversion rates increasing from 22% to 26% between 2002 and 2018.
All solid waste disposed at landfills in Manitoba is subject to a $10/ ton charge as a disincentive to waste disposal by increasing waste disposal costs, and hence serves as an incentive to reduce and recycle waste. Ontario will be implementing an organic waste ban for landfills this year, while Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia already have similar bans in place. In fact, Nova Scotia’s ban first came into effect in 1998, allowing their goal of 50% waste diversion to be achieved.
24 out of 50 US states currently have some regulation in place to reduce the amount of organic waste sent to landfills. Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Maryland, New Jersey, and Vermont particularly already have organic waste laws in place. 
Maryland requires food facilities producing more than two tons of food waste a week to separate it from other waste and divert it from landfills by Jan 2023. Facilities that produce one ton a week have until Jan 2024.
New Jersey now requires producers of food waste, such as hospitals, prisons, restaurants and supermarkets to recycle food scraps rather than send it to incinerators or landfills (went into effect Fall 2021).
Any Vermont entity that produces more than one ton a week of organic waste must separate it from landfill trash and compost it, or reprocess it if there is a facility within a certain distance. This law essentially creates a full ban on organic waste in Vermont landfills, and was just fully implemented in 2020, despite the pandemic.
And, starting this year, California will require residents and businesses to recycle organic waste, and all jurisdictions must provide organic waste collection services. 
China adopted a food waste law last year that is intended to change societal behavior regarding waste. It bans binge-eating videos and penalizes excessive leftovers. Restaurants can now charge diners an extra fee if they leave excessive amounts of food uneaten. In addition, food providers that induce or mislead consumers into making excessive orders can also face fines.
The CaribShare perspective
I created CaribShare, Jamaica’s first organic waste recycling program, despite the absence of organic waste laws in the country. CaribShare collected over 60 bins of food waste daily from eight hotels in Montego Bay: Iberostar, Half Moon, Hyatt Ziva Zilara, RIU Reggae, RIU Palace, RIU Montego Bay, Sandals Royal and Sandals Montego Bay. Our committed team of 10 persons operated a large scale biodigester plant that recycled the food waste into biogas and organic fertilizer (2016-9). In so doing, CaribShare collected and diverted over 5,000 tones of food waste from landfills. The organic fertilizer was donated to the small farming community of Braco, Trelawny to help restore their soil ecosystem and promote organic farming.
Prior to CaribShare, no other organic waste recycler existed to serve the local tourism sector. As a result, we initiated a food waste recycling culture within these hotels. However, after 3 years of operations, the program unfortunately stopped as the hotels were not willing to pay for the service, although it had elevated their sustainability programs, and significantly lowered their environmental footprint and cost.
Thanks to grant funding, the hotels had benefited from the recycling service free of cost for those 3 years. At the onset, I figured that the hotels would only participate if the service was offered at no charge, as they would consider recycling simply as an additional cost to their budget, and knowing that environmental considerations are not prioritized. So, I experimented – I thought that offering the free service initially would allow the hotels to experience and to value the benefits so they would then be willing to pay a small fee. However, I lost the gamble as only 1 out the 8 hotels was willing to pay for the service after the 3 years.
While disappointed, however, I took another gamble to engage the hotels in the fight against food waste. In partnership with the Center for Responsible Travel and World Wildlife Fund, CaribShare successfully organized and delivered Jamaica’s 1st Food Waste Conference last year January. The event broadened the business case for holistic and sustainable food waste management to include food waste reduction and food donations as well as food waste recycling to 15 hotels in the Montego Bay and Trelawny areas.
Essentially, we showed that the considerable financial savings from reducing food waste would easily offset the cost of food donation and recycling activities. In this case, the gamble paid off partially as 5 out of the 15 hotels in attendance indicated an interest in recycling services post conference. However, the interest and willingness to pay shown by 3 of those hotels was directly due to a corporate global mandate for all their properties to manage their waste sustainably and to limit the quantities of organic waste sent to landfills.
While I am glad that such mandates have begun to put focus on food waste, Jamaica and the Caribbean really should not rely on foreign corporate mandates to dictate our environmental safeguards. Based on my experiences (gambles), I am even more convinced and adamant that food waste laws and policies are needed for appropriate action to be taken on food waste. We know that the ban on single use plastic bags was successfully implemented in Jamaica a few years ago, and so an organic waste ban is very possible and certainly can also be successfully implemented.
Sources: FAO, 2013. Toolkit: Reducing the Food Wastage Footprint, (available at https://www.fao.org/3/i3342e/i3342e.pdf ).  FAO, 2011. Global Food Losses and Waste. Extent, Causes and Prevention. (available at http://www.fao.org/docrep/014/mb060e/mb060e00.pdf).  United Nations Environment Program, 2021. UNEP Food Waste Index Report, (available at https://www.unep.org/resources/report/unep-food-waste-index-report-2021).  Environment Research and Education Foundation Canada, 2021. State of the Practice of Organic Waste Management and Collection in Canada, (available at https://eref-canada.ca/projects/).  Environment Research and Education Foundation Canada, 2021. State of the Practice of Organic Waste Management and Collection in Canada, (available at https://eref-canada.ca/projects/).  The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2021. Waste Not? Some States Are Sending Less Food to Landfills, (available at https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2021/07/08/waste-not-some-states-are-sending-less-food-to-landfills).  Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center, 2021. California Law Requires Organic Waste Collection to Reduce Climate Change, (available at https://www.nycfoodpolicy.org/food-policy-snapshot-california-organic-waste-collection/).  Global Times, 2021.China adopts law against food waste; binge eating, excessive leftovers to face fines, (available at https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202104/1222490.shtml).