New report highlights businesses, institutions successfully fighting back against food waste

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Simple steps can address the environmental, social and economic costs of food waste in the U.S.

CHICAGO Over 33% of all food produced in America is never consumed. On average, every American wastes 492 to 1,032 pounds of food each year. The resources, energy and money that go into food production are ultimately wasted too. As food rots in landfills, it releases greenhouse gasses, worsening climate change. 

It is possible, however, to reduce food waste: Farms, supermarkets, restaurants, schools and other institutions are already starting to address the issue. U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Environment America Research & Policy Center released on Thursday a new report, The Fight Against Food Waste: What we can learn from 10 leaders tackling food waste, that highlights businesses and institutions that are successfully combating food waste. The report emphasizes the best practices a variety of organizations are employing and identifies takeaways for others looking to address their food waste. 

“The cost of food waste is too high to bear for our planet, businesses and households,” said Danielle Melgar, U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Food and Agriculture advocate. “We are polluting our air and depleting our resources to make food that will never be eaten. To combat climate change and ensure we have a food system that gets food to everyone who needs it, businesses and institutions must address food waste. This report shows that food waste reduction practices are feasible and impactful for a wide range of organizations.” 

From primary production and distribution and processing to retail and consumption, food waste occurs at every point along the food supply chain. The report looks at actors at each stage of the supply chain who are following the EPA’s food recovery guidelines, such as source reduction, donation, creating animal feed, industrial reuse and composting. 

The report identifies seven general changes entities along the supply chain can make to fight food waste including:

  1. Track food waste;
  2. Plan production and inventory around demand;
  3. Reimagine new uses for conventionally discarded items; 
  4. Embed food donation in everyday practices;
  5. Adopt multiple mechanisms to divert food waste;
  6. Emphasize food waste education and stakeholder support and
  7. Explore innovations.

“At every point in the food supply chain there are opportunities to prevent and reduce food waste,” Melgar said. “The organizations featured in this report are aware of their role in creating and combating food waste. We need more entities recognizing their role in our global food waste problem and taking action against it.” 

One business featured in the report, New England grocery retailer Hannaford Supermarkets, achieved zero food waste at all of its stores in 2020. The company employed a variety of food waste reduction strategies including partnering with Feeding America to facilitate food donations and giving food scraps to local farmers for animal feed to reach this milestone. 

“Hannaford Supermarkets’ strategies to divert food waste from the landfill made its operations more sustainable while simultaneously supporting local communities,” Melgar said. “We commend Hannaford for its success in preventing food waste in its stores, and we urge other retailers and institutions to use Hannaford as an example of what is possible.”

The companies and institutions included in this report have turned the problem of food waste into an opportunity to address wide ranging issues. Food loss and waste costs about $408 billion annually in the U.S. Meanwhile, in 2019 and 2020, more than one in ten Americans were food insecure. Efforts to reduce food waste, such as more efficient inventory management and food donation, can cut costs and reallocate food to those in need. 

“The fact of hunger amidst enormous food waste is absurd,” Melgar said. “We hope that everywhere from farm operations to family dinner tables, it’s understood that addressing food waste presents a clear opportunity to solve a significant societal problem, save money and reduce our environmental impact.”