The latest edition of the Illinois Environmental Council newsletter contained good news for those concerned with food waste reduction in K-12 schools and public agencies:
“HB5530 was signed on July 15 and is immediately effective. This law prohibits schools and public agencies from signing contracts that restrict unused food from being donated to food pantries or soup kitchens.” (emphasis added)
As mentioned in a previous post, federal law, in the form of the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, protects citizens, businesses, and institutions from liability when food items are donated in good faith. Despite the existence of this law, there is widespread lack of understanding related to the legality and liability associated with food donation, and it is not uncommon to encounter people who work with food who genuinely believe that food donation should thus be avoided.
Indeed, in a report from the Illinois Radio Network, Jen Walling, Executive Director of the Illinois Environmental Council, expressed surprise that public entities in Illinois would require encouragement to donate unused food to food banks, pantries or shelters. But her own interactions with food service workers illustrated a belief among them that food donation was “banned.” Some of this confusion may stem from language in contracts with food service providers at the school or district level. So the new state legislation clarifies the legality of food donation, and encourages it, by preventing schools and public agencies from signing contracts with such restrictive language. This legislation touches upon economic, social, and environmental aspects of sustainability by helping schools and agencies divert waste from landfill and thus save money in terms of waste hauling, by helping provide nutrition to community members struggling with food insecurity, and through avoidance of wasting resources embedded in the production of food, such as water and energy.
To learn more about food donation in schools, view the video and slides from the “Food Donation for Schools” webinar on ISTC’s Green Lunchroom Challenge web site, available at https://www.greenlunchroom.org/archivedWebinars.cfm. See also the presentation on “Using Zero Percent to Donate Surplus Food” from Raj Karmani, available at https://www.greenlunchroom.org/kickoffMaterials.cfm. The Green Lunchroom Challenge activity on establishing a food donation policy has some useful links to help find food banks and pantries in your area. For more ideas on how to reduce and prevent food waste at your school or organization, see https://www.greenlunchroom.org/activities.cfm.