The Clean Plate Club

The Clean Plate Club

Let's Talk About Food Waste

Remember “The Clean Plate Club”? Turns out it wasn’t just something parents made up to admonish kids about not eating all the food on their plates. Its history goes back to 1917 when Herbert Hoover, America’s first Food Administrator, proclaimed “food will win the war.” That campaign ended after the First World War, but in 1947 the “Clean Plate” theme returned. (source: Time magazine)

Since America had become strong agriculturally while parts of Europe were struggling to survive, the U.S. instituted a campaign called “The Gospel of the Clean Plate: Don’t Waste Any Food.” Thousands of women volunteers went through their communities asking neighbors to sign a food pledge. Fourteen million families displayed this sign in their windows to show they supported the campaign. (source: The Great War, PBS).

So, food waste is not a new issue. It was important in early 20th century America and it’s back as an important concern today.

Reports are constantly being released with data and statistics on food waste. They may vary a little depending on the source but the thing they all have in common is that the numbers are huge. According to recent data compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and published in the journal PLOS ONE, Americans throw away approximately 150,000 tons of food a day adding up to $160 billion in food waste per year. And thirty million acres of cropland are used to produce this food that’s not eaten.

According to the Food Waste Alliance, it’s estimated that 25-40 percent of the food that is grown, processed and transported in the United States will never be consumed. Where does it go? According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more food reaches landfills than other types of municipal solid waste.

These numbers are especially troubling since one in eight Americans is defined as “food insecure,” meaning that at some point they have difficulty feeding their family. And the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO) reports that 800 million people worldwide are considered chronically hungry.

Obviously, food waste is not just an environmental issue – it has serious social and economic implications as well.

How did we get here? As a 2016 article in The Atlantic put it, America leads the way in food waste because “calories are cheap and people are picky.” But the great American squandering of produce appears to be a cultural dynamic as well, continues Atlantic writer Adam Chandler. We have developed an obsession with the aesthetic quality of food and will not buy (or we buy and throw out) anything that looks bruised or a bit wilted. But it’s not all our fault as consumers. Often grocers won’t even put fresh produce on their shelves if it looks the least bit ugly. Fresh fruits and vegetables account for 39% of food waste, followed by dairy (17%), meat and mixed meat dishes (14%), and grains and grain mixed dishes (12%).

One example of ways people are developing to counter this waste is Imperfect Produce, a San Francisco company which promises to deliver ugly, healthy and delicious produce at a 30% savings over grocery store prices. And it’s catching on: When Imperfect Produce entered the Seattle market, their goal was to sign up 300 households by the end of the year. Instead, more than 2,000 signed up within four weeks. (“Seattle’s love affair with ugly fruits and veggies,” Seattle Times, January 6, 2018).

But individual shoppers and diners alone don’t make up these numbers:

  • The average amount of purchased food that is wasted in a full-service restaurant is 11.3 percent.
  • Nearly 85 percent of all food waste happens in homes or consumer-facing businesses, such as restaurants, retail grocers and institution cafeterias.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 23, 2017

Where do we stand locally?  We’re better than some. According to “The United States of Financial Waste,” a recent survey of 2,000 households conducted by professional resources site Hloom, Georgia ranks about in the middle in percentages of which states waste the most groceries and restaurant meals

Last fall, food waste was one of the topics on the agenda for the 2017 Chefs Collaborative Summit held in Atlanta. The Chefs Collaborative is a national nonprofit whose mission is “to inspire, educate and celebrate chefs and food professionals building a better food system.” Their goal is for sustainable practices to become second nature for all chefs in this country. As part of this conference, local chef Steven Satterfield held a workshop where a group of the chefs “talked trash.”

And some hunger relief organizations in the Atlanta area are creating partnerships to reduce food waste and make more food available to the folks in need in our communities. The Atlanta Community Food Bank, one of the largest hunger-relief groups in the Southeast, recently established a partnership with Second Helpings Atlanta. The collaboration with Second Helpings Atlanta, a nonprofit food rescue organization, will allow the Food Bank to expand its efforts to reduce food waste in Metro Atlanta and get more food to local people in need. These two groups will continue to work together to identify new food recovery opportunities and test, refine, and implement new programs to reduce food waste – and hunger – in Atlanta.

Food Waste today is about more than a clean plate – when we waste food we also are wasting other important resources – water, labor, food, money, and valuable crop land.

Hopefully, you’re asking yourself now what else we can do – individually and as businesses – to help in the effort to reduce food waste.

Watch this space for news on what we can do to improve food and organics recycling.

Spoiler alert … there will be talk of commercial composting and anaerobic digesters/

Read More About It …

Articles on food waste are showing up in publications from Forbes to the Huffington Post, to the Washington Post, to WasteDive, to the Atlantic. We’ve included some of the things we’re reading:

Additional Resources …

Break Out the Red, White & Blue (Tablecloths)

Break Out the Red, White & Blue (Tablecloths)

During the snow days, we were probably dreaming about summertime. And finally, Memorial Day – first official day of summer – is almost here. No matter how you observe Memorial Day – marching in a parade, visiting cemeteries or memorials – there’s bound to be a picnic or cookout somewhere along the way.

Here are a few things to consider as you prepare for the holiday …

The picnic is not a new concept. According to Merriam-Webster, the first known use of the word “picnic” occurred in 1826. Picnics even precede Decoration Day (the precursor to Memorial Day), declared in 1868. But the plastic items that we use for eating outside – and sometimes inside – are a fairly new invention. One might say plastic came late to the picnic. Early picnic baskets were filled with glassware, metal or crockery dishes and metal cutlery. According to the Superior Plastics Company, plastics came into wide use in homes after World War II and by the 1960s had replaced many materials in the kitchen. Manufacturers soon began making plastic spoons, forks, and knives that were meant to be thrown away after one use, eliminating the need to use water, electricity, and manpower to wash them. (According to Superior Plastics, this was a plus).

Then in 1970, along came the “spork,” patented by a Massachusetts company and made famous by Kentucky Fried Chicken. (If you’ve never bought a bucket of KFC, the spork is half-spoon, half fork).

Today, we do have more choices for our picnics. Companies are producing edible cutlery that  comes in flavors, compostable cutlery made of material like bamboo, and even dinnerware made of fallen leaves. But why don’t we just go back to the old-fashioned ways, reducing our dependence on these plastics?

Washing up was good enough for picnickers until the middle of the 20th century when we decided it was easier to just throw things away. We were swept away by convenience, not thinking about where these things would end up and how they would affect our environment.

So before you pack your picnic basket or get ready for the barbecue, remember that not only are these plastics taking up space in landfills, the manufacturing process uses up valuable resources. This Greenpeace video from a few years ago tells “The Story of a Spoon.”

And make sure dish soap is on your shopping list.

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother Nature’s Day

Many of us may think of Mother’s Day as one of those “Hallmark Holidays” designed to encourage shopping. However, the earliest efforts to establish a day to celebrate mothers started before Hallmark existed. Celebrations of mothers and motherhood can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, but the U.S. Mother’s Day wasn’t established until 1914 when Woodrow Wilson issued a Presidential proclamation establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

Of course, there’s our other Mother – Mother Nature. Her origins date even further back to Gaea, a goddess in Greek mythology who was seen as the embodiment of the Earth. As both a goddess and as Earth itself, Gaea features in many myths explaining the natural order of things.

Though how we view Mother Nature may have changed over the years, the basics idea is the same.

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, Mother Nature is “nature personified as a woman considered as the source and guiding force of creation.”

Native American Elders describe her this way: “The Great Spirit is in all things. He is in the air we breathe. The Great Spirit is our Father, but the Earth is our Mother. She nourishes us. That which we put into the ground she returns to us.”

But sometimes it seems like Mother Nature gets angry (like our own mothers may have done). Author Moisés Naím, a Distinguished Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC, wrote in a 2015 article in the Atlantic (just before the Climate Summit in Paris, “Human nature vs. Mother Nature. The Struggle for Our Time.” He continued by saying that it seemed like Mother Nature was trying to get our attention – with hard-to-miss signals.

It’s true that the Earth’s climate has changed all throughout history. But no matter what we believe is the cause, NASA reports that there is evidence today that most of the current warming trends are likely (greater than 95 percent probability) to be the result of human activity.

Fortunately, Mother Nature is strong and in some cases is able to help herself – it’s sort of like she’s gotten tired of waiting for us. An article published in Nature Geoscience earlier this year reported that wetlands are natural water purifiers on a vast scale and can reduce nitrate concentration (caused by run-off from farming) better than any other method. In fact, some types of wetlands are so good at this filtration function that environmental managers construct similar artificial wetlands to treat storm water and wastewater.

But we can’t leave Mother Nature to totally fend for herself.

And there are ways to recognize Mother Nature and mothers in May. You can plant a tree (in memory or celebration of someone), take a hike, or take a walk in a local arboretum. A number of places around Atlanta have been designated as an arboretum, including Georgia Tech University, Agnes Scott College, and the Atlanta Beltline.

Or if your family or friends are runners, you can go plogging, a new craze that’s come to the U.S. from Sweden. Plogging is a play on the Swedish words for “pick up” put together with “jogging.” It’s becoming so popular in the U.S. that Keep American Beautiful has partnered with Lifesum, a health app that allows users to log, track, and estimate the number of calories burned while plogging.

Oh, yeah, and please leave the cut flowers off the list this year, unless they come out of your own garden.

It’s never too early to start educating your kids, or your friends’ kids, about sustainability. Studies have found a significant relationship between how young children learn about sustainability when parents and teachers are part of sustainability-related discussions and activities.

Recycling and other conservation activities are good habits to nurture at an early age. So, find out if your local schools recycle. In one school in Vermont a few years ago, a persistent mother or two children in the elementary school worked with school principals, facilities managers, and food service staff to reinvigorate recycling.

Take time to read to children and other members of your family. There are children’s books on many topics, everything from young people who are becoming environmental activists at an early age to conservation and environmental protection.

To bring us back to the other Mother’s Day …

In an article on, blogger Brooke Willson wrote about “10 Things Mother Nature Can Teach Us.” Reading through the list, it’s impossible not to see the similarities with qualities our own mothers probably tried to instill in us.

  1. Strength                                             6. Acceptance
  2. Perseverance                                    7. Balance
  3. Patience                                             8. Appreciation
  4. Optimism                                           9. Self-worth
  5. Respect                                             10. Happiness

(Ten Tree sells clothing and accessories and plants ten trees for every item sold).

Additional Information

  • More on the history of Mother’s Day
  • Here in the Atlanta area, Trees Atlanta has a lot to offer, including their Holiday Gift Program and they also tell you how to plant your own tree. They also partnered with WABE Atlanta Public Radio to planta tree in metro Atlanta for every pledge WABE receives on one specific day of their fundraising drive,
  • To find a designated Arboretum near you, you can search ArbNet
  • Farhana Borg, Mikael Winberg & Monika Vinterek (2017) “Children’s Learning for a Sustainable Society: Influences from Home and Preschool,” Education Inquiry, 8:2, 151-172, DOI: 10.1080/20004508.2017.1290915


Rootin’ for the Earth – Part 2

Rootin’ for the Earth - Part 2

We thought we might wrap up Earth Day 2018 with a few things that happened this year. Here’s a short list of what we’re reading …

The We Are Still In coalition – the 2,700 U.S. organizations who have come together to show the world that we stand by the Paris Climate Agreement and are committed to meeting its goals – launched ‘We Are Taking Action.” This venture is a multi-sector campaign to drive new and more ambitious climate action from non-federal actors across the country, ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco this September.

Waste Dive 360 wrote about “12 leading companies, nonprofits pay tribute to Earth Day 2018.”

Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Northeast Recycling Council, reflecting on 50 years of environmental action reminded us of this 1970 broadcast from famous newsman Walter Cronkite.
  • Apple announced Daisy – a new disassembly robot that takes Apple products and harvests the metals from them, reducing the new for extracting new material.
  • Outdoors retailer The North Face partnered with The National Parks Foundation on a collection of t-shirts and tote bags made from recycled bottles collected from three national parks. $1 from each sale will be donated back to the foundation, and the program has already collected over 160,000 pounds of bottles from Yosemite National Park alone.

According to CityLab, volunteers helped the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program (VOSRP) stuff mesh bags with oyster shells, which they collect from restaurants around the state. The bags are then submerged into tanks, where staff members will introduce oyster larvae. The larvae attach themselves to the shells and grow into spat and eventually full-sized oysters, with shells of their own.

“Because an oyster shell has two valves, and 10 to 15 larvae typically attach themselves to each valve, “that means we return 20 to 30 oysters to the Bay for every oyster that we get,” program director Todd Jane ski said.

On the local front, The Saporta Report had a guest column by Sally Bethea, board president of Chattahoochee Parks Conservancy: An Earth Day reflection: America’s National Park System

We hope you enjoyed these highlights. We like sharing what we discover with you so be looking for more “What We’re Reading Now” columns

Rootin’ for the Earth

Rootin’ for the Earth

Earth Day 2018: End Plastic Pollution

Editor’s Note: We thought you might appreciate a different perspective on Earth Day this year. So we asked Sugarfoot, our new M-PASS contributor, to share her thoughts about the importance of Earth Day 2018.

Hi, I’m Sugarfoot.

I’m pleased to root up information and share my views for the team at M-PASS, weighing in today on Earth Day and what people are doing to our environment. My qualifications for the job? Well, after all, animals also have a stake in the future of the planet and it seems more often than not nobody much listens to us.

Yes, the photo is right. I’m a pig – a female Juliana pig – also known as the Miniature Painted Pig – a breed that probably originated in Europe. As a strong-willed female I’m proud to be from Jefferson, Georgia, where I was born in October of 2017. I’m very different from the pigs you see on traditional farms – I like to hang out with people, I appreciate creature comforts, and I don’t have to work hard or worry about the heat or the cold. And while my breed has a different lifestyle from other pigs, we all share similar interests and concerns about our changing environment.

You might be asking why a pig for this job? Sir Winston Churchill said it better than I ever could:

“I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”
–Sir Winston Churchill (he loved pigs)

Since I’m going to be joining the MP team around M-PASS for a while, I want to let you in on a few pig facts:

  • Pigs aren’t dirty animals. We’re actually quite clean but have the dirty reputation because we like to roll around in mud to cool off. Since I live in a cool, covered home, I stay very clean (though I have to admit, rolling around in the mud looks like fun).
  • Pigs are among the smartest of all domesticated animals. Tests show that some of us are smarter than dogs and some of us show an IQ close to that of a three-year-old child.
  • Pigs are good communicators and are very social and peaceful animals.
  • While we have poor eyesight we have a great sense of smell. Our snouts were made to search – or root – for food, which connects us directly to the earth.

I am qualified to talk about Earth Day because pigs, like many animals, contribute to the sustainability of our environment, though we rarely get much credit for it. Like people, we depend on good air, water, soil, along with the additional components that make up our delicate balance of life.

Pigs play an important role in managing ecosystems and maintaining biodiversity. When we root around, we’re constantly stirring up the soil, creating areas for new plant colonization and spreading plants by dispersing seeds as we go along. The environment is gravely important to us: according to Dr. Alex Stolba at The Humane Farming Association, pigs living in a natural environment spend 31% of the day grazing and 21% of the day rooting and 23% of the day interacting with the environment in other ways. So what may look like playing around and randomly digging is us really working.

Okay, that’s enough about me and pigs. Got to stay on topic … Earth Day 2018.

I would imagine that it’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t heard of Earth Day in the 48 years since it began. Today, Earth Day has become an annual global event with a reported more than one billion participants in 192 countries. (So far, pigs aren’t included in this count; but with this gig I have with M-PASS, maybe someday we’ll all be counted).

Earth Day Beginnings:
While everyone’s probably heard of Earth Day, I wanted to do some research so I could tell you how it all got started.

Believe it or not, it started with a politician. Gaylord Nelson, then Senator from Wisconsin, is widely credited with the concept of a day to celebrate the Earth and reflect on the effect people’s actions have on our planet. According to the Earth Day Network, Nelson was inspired after seeing the effects of a massive 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. His aim was to combine the energy of growing student activism with the increasing public consciousness about air and water pollution into a wave of support for the environment.

In fact, the public consciousness had been increasing since the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller Silent Spring. Carson’s writing raised awareness about the threats to our planet’s living things (she included animals), and the environment. Her work showed distinct links between pollution and health. (How Silent Spring Ignited the Environmental Movement, the New York Times, September 21, 1992).

On April 22, 1970, over twenty million Americans participated in massive coast-to-coast rallies demonstrating for a healthy and sustainable environment. The large numbers who turned out helped put environmental protection on the national political agenda.

That first Earth Day achieved a rare alignment, with people coming together from all ideals and walks of life. (Now, why can’t you people do this more often?). Supporters from both the Republican and Democratic Parties joined in the effort, along with diverse economic groups, city folks and farmers, business owners and labor leaders. By the end of that year, this unified action had energized efforts to establish the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.

Earth Day has continued to grow, going global in 1990, and mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries. That year put environmental issues onto the world stage and gave a huge boost to worldwide recycling efforts.

Earth Day 2018
Earth Day continues to address the most pressing environmental issues with the 2018 theme “End Plastic Pollution.” This year’s focus is on mobilizing the world to end plastic pollution and “… is dedicated to providing the information and inspiration needed to fundamentally change human attitude and behavior about plastics.”

The timing this year couldn’t be better. We are in a period of exponential growth of plastics usage and waste and that growth is a threat to the health – and survival – of our planet. Th Effects of this growth have intensified over the last few years as it has become harder to find ways to recycle plastic waste. For example, when China started enforcing new regulations on the import of recyclable materials, they left recycling companies around the world scrambling for alternatives. (“China’s ‘Green Fence’ is having a dramatic economic impact on the plastics recycling market,” M-PASS, August 18, 2017; “Blue Sky 2018: China Continues to Impact the World,” M-PASS, April 5, 2018).

We’re starting to see more images in the news of “islands” of floating plastic materials, scuba divers having to dodge plastic bottles as they dive, and mountains of plastic bottles – making us more aware of the problem. (While we pigs will eat a lot of things, we’re not known for eating plastic, so we can’t help with this).

Earth Day 2018 comes at a time when increasing numbers of individuals and companies are starting to pay attention to the issue. And not only paying attention – they are all looking for innovative ways to decrease the amount of traditional plastics we use. Imagine how the huge numbers of Earth Day participants will further spread this awareness around the world.

I am excited to join M-PASS to help create awareness from the animal population – you’ll be hearing more from us.

On behalf of animals (and people) everywhere, here are a few ways you can become part of the movement. It’s not that hard to make a difference.

  • Calculate your plastic consumption with the Earth Day plastic calculator.
  • Continue to decrease the amount of single-use plastics you use: for example, take your own bag to the grocery, reduce your amount of bottled water.
  • Continue to improve your recycling habits, including paper, glass and electronics – it’s not just about plastic.
  • Join an event this weekend with your family, your pets, and others you care about. These events can be fun as well as educational.
  • Learn more about the Earth Day Network (EDN) and read about some of their successful initiatives here. EDN continues to lead and grow this movement while also providing educational programs in schools, reforestation and more.

While most of the events are probably mostly for people (and dogs – they get to go everywhere), here are a few articles that include all us animals.