Co-written by Natalia de los Ríos, Ure Emejuru, Cayden Braswell and Matthew Stanley, participants in the environmental studies program at the Brock Environmental Center (bios below)

A recent The EPA report highlights the fact that we have enough food in this country to feed us all; however, 13.8 million people in our country still face food insecurity. Tackling the underlying causes of food insecurity is complex, requiring economic, political and social reforms to address generations of inequality, but better distribution of food surpluses can bring immediate relief. To do this, in our home state of Virginia, we drafted a bill that would extend liability protections to businesses, restaurants, and any food donation group that would like to donate food beyond sell-by date. It was introduced as HB 1249 and we are working to have it passed by our legislature.

Natalia de los Ríos and Ure Emejuru meet with Virginia State Delegate Jackie Glass
Photo: Ure Emejuru

Currently, you cannot donate food in Virginia past the expiration date, but most date labels have no correlation to health and safety. These labels are commonly used to regulate stock rotations, for inventory purposes, and to indicate the maximum quality of the product to be consumed (eg color, sweetness or taste). As a result of this confusion, approximately $29 billion in consumer spending is wasted. This amount fuels the $408 billion worth of food thrown away every year. Additionally, many recipient companies and organizations are reluctant to donate or accept perfectly edible food after an arbitrary date, solely for fear of liability. We have seen this through our work in the Virginia Beach chapter of Food Rescue US.

If passed, HB 1249 would help clarify that food is still safe to eat despite expiry dates. It would also bring additional economic and environmental benefits. By diverting food from landfill, it would help reduce methane emissions from landfills. The bill would save businesses money on garbage collection costs and provide them with tax credits for food donations. It would also make more food available to food insecure people.

If you live in Virginia, we need your help getting HB 1249 passed. Here’s what you can do:

We are extremely grateful to Chief Sponsor Delegate Glenn Davis and Co-Sponsors Delegate Jackie Glass, Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Delegate Dan Helmer and Senator Lynwood Lewis for their leadership on this issue.

If you don’t live in Virginia, we encourage you to check out the liability protections in your state and see if they need improvement.

Meet the team

LR: Natalia de los Rios, Ure Emejuru, Cayden Braswell, Kenza Zitouni and Matt Stanley
Photo: Natalia de los Rios

Natalia de los Ríos is a junior in the International Baccalaureate program at Princess Anne High School and the Environmental Studies Program (ESP) in Virginia Beach. She founded the Virginia Beach Chapter of Food Rescue US in 2020 and has rescued over two million pounds of food and redistributed it to those facing food insecurity. At ESP, she is also working on an initiative to expand access to composting organic waste.

Ure Emejuru is a student at Princess Anne Secondary School and a LAAW Fellow with Clever Communities in Action. Through her work in food rescue, she appreciated the opportunity to speak with many members of my community. She believes that this policy is only one step towards reducing the socio-economic inequalities present in our country today.

Cayden Braswell is a junior at Princess Anne Secondary School and in the Environmental Studies program. She is also a youth commissioner at the Virginia Beach Clean Community Commission. She is passionate about agriculture, waste and equity. Working in restaurants exposed Braswell to the astonishing amount of perfectly good food thrown away daily, when there were clearly people who needed it.

Matthew Stanley is a student at Kempsville High School as well as the Virginia Beach Environmental Studies Program. He enjoys making meaningful change and is interested in policy development.