Food Loss, Food Waste
We first raised the issue of food waste here around the end of June. The article presented a lot of the reasons why, according to a 2016 article in The Atlantic, America leads the way in food waste because “calories are cheap and people are picky.”
What Can We Do to Reduce Food Waste?
“Ideally, we must make the term “food waste” obsolete. Food at all stages of preparation and consumption should be captured for the next use and never thrown away.” Susan Kidd, Director of Sustainability, Agnes Scott College
First, we can become smarter consumers – whether shopping at the market or dining out – and focus more on buying and ordering amounts we actually need. Since most of us don’t have the chance to go to a farmer’s market more than once a week, it has been easy – and necessary – to get into the habit of going to the supermarket weekly and stocking up. But plans can change and suddenly you’re going out to dinner several nights, abandoning your meal planning. (And don’t, like me, fall for every two-for-one deal the store offers).
The other primary way to better deal with leftover food is to increase the amount of organic waste we compost. It may seem like it should be an easy thing to recycle organic waste into compost – it’s an all-natural process after all. If you want to know more specifics about the science of composting, the UGA Extension program has a publication with all the details about why composting food waste is so important and how composting works. Guess the number one reason they mention it? Because otherwise it goes to landfills. Organic recycling saves resources, by reducing need for fertilizer and pesticides; reduces methane from landfills; and returns nutrients to the soil, improving soil health and conserving water
But on the contrary, it’s a complicated issue and has to be managed well. Some of the major challenges facing commercial composting and anaerobic digestion are:
- equipment costs (The building and operation of anaerobic digestion plants are costly with a long return on investment);
- increased transportation costs;
- lack of availability of locations willing to allow organic composting (cost again – the margins are slim on food waste recycling);
- potentially complicated permitting processes along with competition from relatively inexpensive landfill tipping fees . (We often see challenging permitting processes, though through changes in the rules in Georgia, the process today is less complicated in our state).
While there are numerous challenges, there are also lots of people, businesses, and organizations working on solutions. Since every day there seems to be some new bit of news, we’re going to give you some of the highlights:
- The 2018 U.S. Food Waste Summit in Cambridge, Massachusetts had its largest attendance since the event began at the Harvard Food Law & Policy Clinic (HFLPC) in 2016. Co-hosted by ReFed, a multi-stakeholder nonprofit collaboration of the nation’s leading business, nonprofit, foundation, and government leaders committed to reducing U.S. food waste. ReFED has identified 27 of the best opportunities to reduce food waste.
- Apeel Science, featured in CNBC’s 6th annual Disruptor list of companies whose innovations are changing the world, has developed an all-natural and edible substance that, when applied to the outside of harvested fruits and vegetables, creates an invisible shield that can double their lifespan without refrigeration. Apeel’s founder and CEO James Rogers put together funding from corporations and foundations and applied his background in material engineering to develop the system. The company’s first products are Apeel Avocado and Apeel Citrus.
- Government Actions
As discussed in the first part of our story, the USDA is active in a number of efforts. In addition, as national conversations on food waste expand, the EPA and USDA have developed a variety of resources including The EPA’s ongoing Food Recovery Challenge and U.S. Food Loss and Waste Champions 2030 programs, along with the USDA’s Foodkeeper app to help with food storage and planning.
- Consumer Interest
As clients and customers of the food service and restaurant industry become more aware of, and committed to, sustainability issues, the “reputational value” of lowering and diverting wasted food becomes more important.
This past April, Waste 360 which provides information, events, and education to the solid waste, recycling, organics and sustainable communities, held the 50th annual WasteExpo Las Vegas. After the event, local Los Vegas Livestock collected nearly 4,000 pounds of food scraps which were processed and fed to livestock within 24 hours of collection.
WasteExpo discussions offered three key areas to watch in the national organics conversation
- Packaging Philosophy
- Infrastructure & Investment:
- Policy Moves, at the state and local levels of government as well as market-driving policy changes at some large corporations.
Georgia took a leading role in working to standardize permitting processes in 2006 through a coalition of public and private stakeholders including the Georgia Recycling Coalition; ERTH Products; Atlanta Recycles; Emory University; University of Georgia Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department; and The Coca-Cola Company. Funding for these programs came through a Resource Conservation Challenge grant awarded to Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division by the U.S. EPA. The state Department of Natural Resources Board adopted the revised compost rule in May, 2014. And in 2018, compost operation rules were amended to remove certain volume restrictions resulting in the ability of smaller sites to scale up and accept more material feedstocks.
Like many other places in the country, the cost of organic waste diversion is an issue for Georgia businesses. At the moment we have plentiful landfill space and fairly low landfill costs, as we discussed earlier this year the article “Waste Reduction and Diversion in the South.”
Today, Georgia does have five sites with designated and permitted composting capabilities – two are government-run and three are privately owned – which is great news. Even with these sites, though, businesses can face increased costs due to the need to transport the material over long distances.
In January of this year, the U.S. Composting Council held its annual conference in Atlanta for the first time in twenty-five years. This meeting gave local government, private, and nonprofit representatives an important place on the agenda along with experts from around the country. Highlights of the conference agenda included opening keynote speakers Georgia gardener Joe Lamp’l, Host and Executive Producer of the PBS series Growing a Greener World, and Scott Jenkins, General Manager of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Georgia – and the Atlanta area in particular – have the chance to bring continued change to organic recycling through the leadership of many key organizations that are stepping up to try to make this happen.
Other innovators in the state include the Georgia Recycling Coalition and Food Well Alliance. In 2017 with the support of an EPA grant, these two groups created The Atlanta Community-Based Composting Council to increase community-based compost production which benefits Metro Atlanta’s urban farmers and community gardeners. Also with the Georgia Recycling Coalition and other stakeholders including the City of Atlanta’s Office of Resilience, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and leading urban growers and social enterprises, Food Well Alliance published a white paper, Closing the Loop: Food Waste in Atlanta in June 2017. This is a huge step forward on the community level, but it’s just that – a step.
M-PASS continues to work toward finding new solutions to organic recycling and to enhance the services we currently provide. M-PASS’s Lorraine White said, “Food waste recycling has been an issue in Atlanta for years. We have to keep working on local solutions, because it’s our experience that companies in Atlanta want to recycle – if there’s an affordable way to do it.”
“As we increase community based and large-scale compost manufacturing in Georgia, the goals are to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions, nourish depleted soils, conserve water and grow healthy food for our citizens. Healthy Soil, Healthy Food, Healthy People will become the mantra of our future.”
–Gloria Hardegree, the Georgia Recycling Coalition
Other tools and tips
EPA’s Food Too Good to Waste
On the Save the Food website you can fine
- The guest-imator, a tool that does the dinner planning for you. Just tell it who’s coming and what’s for dinner to find out how much to make.
- The Handpick App which takes any combo of ingredients left in your fridge and helps you find recipes to use them up.