The Fight Against Food Waste

What we can learn from 10 leaders tackling food waste along the supply chain

Food waste is an environmental tragedy. Wasted food is not only a waste of natural resources, but it is also a source of avoidable pollution. Furthermore, the race to generate increasingly excessive quantities of food leads to the use of environmentally harmful farming practices that could be replaced with better practices if crop yield goals were better aligned with actual demand.

Food on shelves at a grocery store
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Sophie Tedesco

Food & Agriculture Intern, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Executive Summary

The Problems: Food waste’s impact on the environment & hunger amidst abundance

Food waste is an environmental tragedy. Wasted food is not only a waste of natural resources, but it is also a source of avoidable pollution. Furthermore, the race to generate increasingly excessive quantities of food leads to the use of environmentally harmful farming practices that could be replaced with better practices if crop yield goals were better aligned with actual demand. To make matters worse, global food waste accounts for eight percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions globally, making it a major, wholly unnecessary contributor to climate change.

Yet while 161 to 335 billion pounds of food are wasted in the U.S. annually, about 13.8 million households were food insecure in both 2019 and 2020. The absurd fact of hunger amidst abundant food presents a clear opportunity to solve a significant social problem as part of efforts to drive down the environmental impact of food waste.

Food waste is not just a threat to the environment and public wellbeing. Wasted food is wasted money and resources for the businesses and consumers that contribute to it. Annually, the cost of food loss and waste amounts to an estimated $408 billion in the U.S. alone, which is money that could go to productive uses for companies and households. As such, it is in the best interests of the public and entities within the food supply chain to cut down on food waste.

The Solutions: Leaders in the Fight Against Food Waste

Although the task of eliminating billions of pounds of food waste while simultaneously ensuring millions more mouths are fed may seem daunting, many entities all along the supply chain have spearheaded initiatives to tackle the problem. In this report, we look at some of these leaders—from farms and grocery stores to restaurants, schools, and hospitals—that have taken action to fight food waste. From these examples, we highlight food waste reduction best practices and draw takeaway tips that can guide any person or organization looking to combat food waste. While there are many entities that are taking critical steps to fight food waste, the ten we highlight in this report have been particularly effective in combining tactics to achieve greater food waste reduction outcomes and adhering to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) hierarchy for food recovery, which emphasizes preventing food waste in the most sustainable and socially responsible manner possible. The ten entities are:

  1. Boundless Farmstead
  2. Pace Family Farms
  3. HelloFresh
  4. Hannaford Supermarkets
  5. The Kroger Company
  6. Sprouts Farmers Market
  7. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
  8. Equinox Restaurant
  9. LaSalle Language Academy
  10. The University of Texas at Arlington

Following these ten, we will also briefly identify other leaders in food waste reduction. These entities show that fighting food waste can happen at every point in the food supply chain. Despite the differences between these companies and institutions, it is clear that tracking food waste, planning production and inventory around demand, reimagining new uses for conventionally discarded items, embedding food donation in everyday practices, adopting multiple mechanisms to divert food waste, emphasizing food waste education and stakeholder support, and exploring innovations are key methods to meaningfully reduce food waste.

From glean teams at family farms to Stop Food Waste Day at college dining halls, the food waste reduction practices of all of these entities demonstrate ways we can combat food waste, and their results show that significantly reducing food waste is achievable. Armed with the knowledge of what is possible, we hope that other entities along the food supply chain will use the examples of these ten businesses and institutions as a catalyst to fight against food waste.

Recommendations

From the successful food waste reduction practices implemented by entities in this report, we have identified seven recommendations central to fighting food waste. The takeaway tips from the leaders in this report correspond to these recommendations and provide ideas and inspiration for how other groups can adopt similar measures. We encourage entities large and small along the supply chain to engage with these recommendations and adopt them in a manner that suits their business or institution. The resources offered in the appendix are a starting point for implementing these practices.

1. Track food waste.

Entities must measure and monitor food waste to be able to adopt effective, targeted practices to reduce waste and understand the efficacy of their efforts. Tracking food waste establishes fighting food waste as a priority and is the first step to reducing it.

2. Plan production and inventory around demand.

The key to preventing food waste at all levels of the supply chain is accurately understanding demand for food products and then producing to that level. On farms, at grocery stores, and in restaurants, recognizing the amount of food that is needed and only supplying that much dramatically reduces leftovers that too often become waste. Planning around demand requires measuring and tracking demand as well as investing in tools to forecast demand to the extent possible.

3. Reimagine new uses for conventionally discarded items.

Many forms of food waste, from undesired produce to food scraps, have a use beyond the landfill. Finding new markets for produce and transforming damaged food items or food scraps into products can open new revenue streams.

4. Embed food donation in everyday practices.

In places where some surplus food is inevitable, incorporating practices to reduce food waste in a company or institution’s practices is critical. There are many organizations whose goal is to streamline food donation so that entities with surplus food can easily and consistently donate food. Adopting food donation as standard practice in an entity can make it the most efficient way to get rid of food waste while maximizing social good.

5. Adopt multiple mechanisms to divert food waste.

No single strategy to tackle food waste will allow a business or institution to eliminate food waste. While preventing excess production and donating surplus food are the best waste reduction practices, employing a variety of techniques from the EPA food recovery hierarchy is essential to meaningfully reducing food waste.

6. Emphasize food waste education and stakeholder support.

We all contribute to food waste, so increasing awareness and understanding is a way to reduce it everywhere. Educating staff and consumers about food waste encourages them to effect change in their realms of influence. Education also increases support for food waste reduction practices among stakeholders and communities. Additionally, for entities that are successfully fighting food waste, sharing their expertise and initiating partnerships with others greatly extends their impact.

7. Explore innovation.

Our food supply system is constantly changing. Shifting norms and new technology are altering our food supply chain and waste management practices. Utilizing advancements in technology to help fight food waste will continue to move us forward.

Topics
Authors

Sophie Tedesco

Food & Agriculture Intern, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Danielle Melgar

Food & Agriculture Advocate, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Danielle works to ensure our food system produces enough nutritious food to feed everyone, without threatening our health, the planet, or the ability of future generations to grow food. Danielle lives in Chicago, where she enjoys staying active in the outdoors, trying out new recipes, and writing short stories.

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