Moving America Forward

Fighting Food Waste, One Sector at a Time

July 7, 2017
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Fighting Food Waste, One Sector at a Time
Americans throw out an estimated 60 billion tons of food a year, a problem that a slew of new apps and nonprofits are helping to reverse. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Restaurants, campuses, and farmers are battling food waste in their industries. Here’s how you can join the effort.

America is one of the largest offenders of food waste in the world, according to a recent survey. Every year, roughly 1.3 billion tons of food is thrown out worldwide, a considerable problem given that agriculture contributes about 22 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions and 12.7 million people go hungry in America alone. Entrepreneurs across several sectors have created ways to repurpose food. Their efforts are admirable and economical, but the biggest difference will be if you make food waste reduction a daily habit.

Recovered food from the University of Denver Food Recovery Network chapter.Photo courtesy of Food Recovery Network

On College Campuses

On average, a student who lives in university housing throws out 141 pounds of food per year. Multiply that by the number of residential colleges around the country, and it becomes a huge problem, says Regina Northouse, executive director for the Food Recovery Network, the only nonprofit dealing specifically with campus food waste.

WATCH: How Much Food Could Be Rescued If College Dining Halls Saved Their Leftovers?

Northouse’s group reduces waste by enlisting the help of student volunteers at 226 universities. This manpower shuttles still-edible food from dining halls that would otherwise be thrown out to local nonprofits fighting hunger. Northouse estimates that since 2011, Food Recovery Network has fed 150,000 food-insecure people.

Through the box-subscription company Hungry Harvest, farmers sell “ugly food” to consumers instead of tossing the unsightly produce out.Photo courtesy of Hungry Harvest

On Farms

If a carrot isn’t quite orange enough, odds are it’ll be tossed. Blemishes and unattractive produce make up nearly 40 percent of discarded food, according to a 2012 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Though some unused fruits and veggies can be sent to food manufacturers, farmers lose profits from about a quarter of their crops because of cosmetic imperfections. To put money back into their pockets, box subscriptions services, such as Hungry Harvest, have found their way into the ugly food market.

“We started out with 10 customers at a stand,” says Stacy Carroll, director of partnerships for Hungry Harvest. “We now have thousands of customers every week buying thousands of pounds of food that would, in the past, have been thrown away.”

Roughly 10,000 subscribers along the East Coast receive weekly boxes of recovered produce from the Baltimore-based company (which was started by the founders of Food Recovery Network). In addition, food insecure families who use SNAP benefits can purchase boxes at 10 Hungry Harvest sites. All in all, the organization redistributes between 60,000 and 80,000 pounds of food through its subscription service each week.

MealConnect provides a platform for retailers to redistribute unsold produce to those in need. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

At Food Retailers

For merchants, food wasted is also money wasted. Across the U.S., the cost of tossing food runs upward of $165 billion annually.

MealConnect, a tech platform launched in April by Feeding America (a nationwide network of food banks), allows retailers to post surplus meals and unused produce on its app, which then notifies local food banks workers to pick it up and redistribute it to those in need. The company has recovered 333 million pounds of food by working with large retailers like Walmart and Starbucks. MealConnect also allows merchants to recoup some of their outlays (via tax deductions).

Chef Dan Barber’s wastED pop-ups challenged chefs to create innovate dishes using produce that otherwise would have been thrown out.Photo courtesy of wastED

In Restaurants

In 2015, the aptly named food popup wastED found itself in the heart of a media frenzy because of what was on the menu: trashed food. 

Since then, a handful of other restaurants in urban areas across the world have used recovered produce in their meals.

“We’re offering our cooks the opportunity to be creative and come up with menus instead,” says Brooklyn, N.Y., chef Przemek Adolf, owner of Saucy By Nature, which uses leftovers from previous catering events to create daily lunch and dinner specials.

The USDA’s FoodKeeper app educates consumers on how to extend the shelf life of stored foods.Photo by iStock

In Your Own Kitchen

Individual families throw away nearly $1,600 worth of food per year, according to the EPA, which has spurred the federal government to step in and help.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture created the app FoodKeeper, which informs consumers on how long an apple can last in the fridge, for example, and proper food storage techniques to extend shelf life. It also sends out reminder alerts to use up food that’s in danger of spoiling. The desired outcome? People changing their behaviors, ultimately buying less and consuming what they do purchase.

 

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