By Kate Worley

U.S. EPA Releases New “Wasted Food Scale”

In October 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a new guide to managing food waste called the “Wasted Food Scale.” This replaces the “Food Recovery Hierarchy” released in the 1990s. Although many of the pathways to manage food are the same, the new Wasted Food Scale has additional food waste management pathways – or ways to manage food waste – to guide decision making.

Wasted Food Scale

The new Wasted Food Scale has a few additions and modifications from the previous hierarchy, which are more representative options available to manage food waste, backed by research findings from currently available sources.

  • Food Waste Prevention is the highest priority. Our customers focus on preventing waste if possible; you don’t have to manage waste if you don’t create it.
  • Waste Prevention is followed by Donation and Upcycling to feed people. Upcycling means finding new ways to use “wasted” food to make other products for people to consume. Ensuring food is eaten by people is the second priority.
  • Animal Feed is the third pathway, and the first pathway listed for recycling.
  • Compost and Apply to Land are the last two recycling pathways. Anaerobic Digestion is on both – depending on whether the waste product (digestate/biosolids) from the AD process is managed through beneficial use or disposal.
  • Send Down the Drain, Landfill, and Incineration are non-recycling pathways and the least desirable ways to manage food.

So why is this important? The ability to recycle wasted food through different pathways is important as the U.S. food recycling infrastructure varies widely, and customer recycling needs can differ greatly based on the types of food waste generated, paper and packaging needs, and how materials are collected. Denali’s size, scale, and ability to recycle organic byproducts through all of the different Wasted Food Scale pathways is an advantage. Denali’s direct connection with the agricultural community through our recycling processes and products is significant. Our company recycles wasted food into animal feed, processed and direct, compost, fertilizer applied to land, and some to anaerobic digestion – all of which claim environmental benefits and contribute to a circular economy.

  • Denali works with a network of over 230 farms, owns/operates 34 compost facilities, and owns  production facilities to make animal feed, biodiesel and other products.
  • Feed, Fuel, and Fertilizer are Denali’s products made from organic wastes. All of these products are made by recycling through the pathways on the Wasted Food Scale.
  • Our work applying organic byproducts to the land reduces the need for synthetic fertilizer.
  • The recycling of organic byproducts to compost and applied to land has potential to sequester carbon which has a positive climate impact.
  • Applying organic byproducts as compost and fertilizer also helps improve soil health, increases water retention, decreases erosion, and can be an overall benefit for the soil ecosystem and plants that grow in it.

To read the U.S. EPA Report presenting the new Wasted Food Scale and methodology to From Field to Bin: The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste Management Pathways | US EPA

If you are a business or manufacturer that would like to learn more about recycling your food byproducts or other organic waste streams, contact Denali for more information. We can help you set up a customized program to fit your service needs, organic waste streams, and provide the best value.


About Denali
Denali is a leading expert and recycler in the U.S. organics recycling industry. In food waste alone, Denali was responsible for managing over 1.7 billion pounds of food waste from retail, foodservice, and industrial food processors in 2023. In recognizing the impact that food waste has on the climate, Denali is committed to working with customers to find innovative, data-driven solutions to reduce waste on the front end. Denali views what others consider “waste” as a valuable resource, manages multiple recycling facilities in the U.S., and has a sizeable fleet to transport organic wastes to a diverse network of recyclers. As a contributor to the circular economy, Denali closes the loop by producing valuable products from recycled organics, including animal feed, biodiesel, compost, tire lubricants, and mulch.

KHeadshot Kate Worleyate Worley is Vice President of Sustainability at Denali. She has worked for more than a decade with some of the largest companies in the world to drive sustainability and reduce waste.