Americans waste a lot of food. So much, that it adds up to about 62 million tons every year. With such wastefulness, it’s time to get serious about a solution. Fortunately, a new comprehensive report released by Rethink Food Waste Through Economics and Data (ReFED) has some helpful suggestions for saving more than 1.8 billion meals from being tossed in the can (or 1.3% of our Gross Domestic Product simply wasted.)
From the ReFED website:
“The Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20 Percent is the first ever national economic study and action plan to reduce food waste at scale. It identifies the most cost-effective solutions and defines research priorities in an effort to spur multi-stakeholder action.”
ReFED estimates that the solutions suggested in their report could create 15,000 new jobs over the course of a decade, provide 1.8 billion more meals per year to America’s food-unstable, and divert 2.6 million tons of food away from U.S. landfills annually.
In addition, it could prevent 18 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year and save 1.6 trillion gallons of water. Those are some huge claims to make. Can they be backed up with proof?
Apparently, if we all followed the 27 suggestions listed in the report, those ambitious goals are indeed obtainable.
27 Solutions for Reducing Food Waste and Helping the World
- 1. Consumer education campaigns about food waste which could save $4,531 per year per ton of food saved.
- 2. Standardized date labeling which could save $4,547 per year per ton of food saved.
- 3. Packaging adjustments which could save $3,443 per year per food ton saved.
- 4. Donation storage and handling so food gets to people who need it before going ‘bad.’
- 5. Donation matching software for a savings of $2,879 per year per food ton saved.
- 6. Standardized food donation regulation which would contribute an additional $2,863 per food ton per year of savings.
- 7. Value-added processing like freezing or freeze-drying foods to contribute a $2,783 per ton per year savings.
- 8. Donation liability education (teaching donors that they won’t be sued for donating food past its expiry date, for example) for a savings of $2,810 per food ton per year.
- 9. Spoilage Prevention for a $2,326 savings per year per food ton.
- 10. Local food recovery through transportation donations for a $2,294 annual per ton of food savings.
- 11. Waste tracking and analytics for additional savings.
- 12. Elimination of over-portioning in all-you-can eat establishments were much food is wasted.
- 13. Use of smaller plates for portion control in restaurants.
- 14. Manufacturing optimization.
- 15. Cold-chain management.
- 16. Tax incentives for donors.
- 17. Improved inventory management.
- 18. More use of imperfect produce, otherwise known as selling the “ugly” fruit.
- 19. Use of secondary resellers.
- 20. Home composting.
- 21. Commercial grey water system installation.
- 22. Centralized anaerobic digestion.
- 23. Centralized composting.
- 24. Use of water resource recovery facilities.
- 25. Use of wasted human food for animals.
- 26. Community composting.
- 27. In-vessel composting.
While the 27-point plan is very comprehensive, it does not include ways to grow more food sustainably, which means hundreds of thousands of pounds of pesticides are not used, polluting our water, water, and soil. Nor does it address what would happen if every farmer stopped using growth hormones and antibiotics, which also makes both the food supply and waste created with these methods more toxic.
It also doesn’t include food and seed sharing among friends and neighbors. Imagine if sharing food on a micro-scale, went macro. Let’s take that glut of tomatoes, for example. Imagine you’ve suddenly found your garden inundated with them. You’ve eaten as many as you can, gifted them to all the friends and family you can think of, filled your cupboards with jars of tomato chutney and still you have too many. You don’t want to throw perfectly good produce onto the compost heap, but what else can you do?
More charities could take our left-overs which are really perfectly fine food.
There are additional ways to feed more people and waste less. In France, for example, legislation has recently been passed that will require supermarkets to donate all unsold food to charity, and there have been calls to replicate this model across Europe.
In Britain, Real Junk Food Project cafés have been spreading, serving up unwanted food from local shops and restaurants on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis.
The report does highlight one of the most underutilized, and perhaps easiest ways to eliminate food waste, which is composting.
“There are 5,000 composting facilities nationwide, yet it is a highly fragmented market, with only 500 facilities accepting food scraps. according to BioCycle magazine. A relatively large facility — processing up to 40,000 tons per year — is expected to cost $5 to $9 million in upfront capital and $17 to $28 per incoming ton to operate.
Most existing compost facilities are much smaller, lacking economies of scale — the national average is closer to 5,000 tons per year, according to BioCycle. For example, a 50,000 ton-per-year facility incurs nearly half the capital cost of a 10,000 ton-per-year facility on a per-ton basis.
Since contamination is a critical issue in large-scale composting, the Roadmap modeling assumes state-of-the-art depackaging and screening equipment is used despite the higher capital costs incurred. From a system perspective, higher costs of screening feedstocks will most likely be offset by higher market value of cleaner compost.”
About 5,037k tons of organic compost could be created instead of adding the same tonnage to the waste cycle. It could also make toxic chemical fertilizers completely unnecessary.
The Benefit is Greater than the Cost
We are throwing away so much, but our collective food trash could literally be treasure with some redirection and a new outlook on growing, transporting, sharing, and saving food.