The Washington Post

Working to reduce food waste and protect the environment

At just 26 years-old, Laura Moreno is a tireless crusader for reducing and recycling food waste.

As a life scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Pacific Southwest Regional Office, Moreno is focusing her attention on the Food Recovery Challenge, a new national effort that seeks to reduce the environmental impact of food waste.

Moreno works with universities and other organizations, educating them on how they can purchase leaner, thus improving their bottom line through cost savings and reducing the amount of waste they generate. Moreno also works with grocers, and has been known to peek into their trash on her site visits and recommend how they can divert up to 95 percent of their trash within in a week for recycling.

“It makes my month to be able to see the immediate change and impact within an organization,” she said.

Each year, more than 33 million tons of food is thrown away, making it the single largest waste material reaching landfills. According to Moreno, when food is disposed in a landfill, it quickly rots and becomes a substantial source of methane — a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. She said a recent EPA study found that almost 13 percent of greenhouse emissions are associated with food — its production, manufacturing, transportation and disposal.

Laura Moreno, EPA life scientist (Jillian Friedman)

Deborah Goldblum, who works with Moreno on the Food Recovery Challenge, said, “When Laura sees something that needs to be done, she takes the action to do it and finds ways around roadblocks. Nothing daunts her.”

“For Laura, work is fun,” Goldblum added.

Moreno acknowledges that reducing food waste is not typically something businesses and other organizations pay attention to on a daily basis. However, she believes the EPA program is an important first step in making them aware that food waste is an issue and that there can be significant savings from improved purchasing, prevention and recycling practices.

“Hopefully, one day the idea of food waste prevention will be like recycling and is in people’s consciousness,” said Moreno.

Moreno also has developed an online tool-kit to help communities and businesses implement new anaerobic digestion projects, which break down food waste and turn it into a renewable energy source.

The tool kit includes a financial assessment tool and website with basic information on food waste as well as an interactive geographic mapping tool with more than 45,000 data points connecting communities and businesses to biogas facilities that can transform the food waste into domestic energy.

The topic of biogas— a gas produced by breakdown of organic matter— is one that Moreno is very passionate about. She chairs the region’s biogas working group, which is seeking to increase renewable energy generation from landfills, food, manure and wastewater. She also leads a research project to quantify the greenhouse gas, air quality and economic impacts of biogas production.

As an undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley, Moreno worked to implement waste reduction and green building programs in campus buildings, and said through that experience she learned “the importance of reducing waste and wanted to work on a larger scale to make a larger impact.”

For Moreno, her work at the EPA is enabling her to make that impact on a daily basis.

“One of the most important criteria for any job that I have is to feel like I am making a positive difference at the end of the day and working for the federal government more than fits that criterion,” she said.

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to www.servicetoamericamedals.org/nominate to nominate a federal employee for a Service to America Medal and http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/fedpage/players/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.

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