There's no hiding it: the food waste problem in the United States is substantial and complicated. It's estimated that 31% of our food supply is wasted or lost, impacting everything from food security and the environment to businesses and our economy. Luckily, businesses large and small can implement food waste reduction strategies and help turn the tide and make a positive impact! But before you get started, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the information in this post, where we explain the food waste problem in greater detail and share how your business can engage in its own food waste reduction practices. Read on to learn more!
Understanding The Food Waste Problem in the US
According to the EPA, the United States wastes approximately 133 billion pounds (31%) of the overall food supply every year. In fact, more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in associated with solid waste. In total, food waste represents 22% of discarded municipal solid waste. When food waste ends up in landfill, it decomposes anaerobically and releases methane emissions, a greenhouse gas that is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Food waste also exhausts our natural resources like the water, gasoline, energy, labor, land, and fertilizers used to produce it. It goes without saying that this brings with it negative economic impacts as well. According to ReFed, the United States spends $218 billion growing, processing, and disposing of uneaten food, which ends up costing US businesses $74 billion each year.
While food waste occurs in each stage of the supply chain, ReFed reports that nearly 85% occurs downstream at consumer-facing businesses and homes. Consumer-facing businesses include supermarkets, restaurants, manufacturers, distribution centers, and more. One of the main reasons why consumer-facing businesses generate so much food waste is due to over-preparation of food. Every year, restaurants generate 14 million tons of organic waste due to large portion sizes, the inflexibility of chain-store management, and pressure to maintain enough food supply to offer extensive menu choices at all times. Likewise, food service businesses, hotels, schools, and restaurants that serve their meals buffet style require estimates of how much food consumers want to eat, often putting out more than is consumed.
Another reason for excess food loss is due to protocols on food safety. Businesses must comply with food safety regulations to keep consumers safe, leaving little room for error, but this unfortunately leads to high amounts of food being 'lost' due to safety regulations. For example, a typical grocery store throws away significant quantities of products every day simply because they do not meet quality and aesthetic standards. And when it comes to the buffet serving style that many businesses, hotels, and educational institutions use, health regulations prevent food that has been touched from being donated, resulting in large amounts ending up in the trash.
How Your Business Can Help Reduce Food Waste
While reducing food waste may seem like a complex issue, taking simple steps can make a significant impact in overcoming this problem. Here are seven tips any business can implement that yield great results:
1. Form a committee or task force on food waste
It only takes one person to make a difference. So whether that person is passionate about reducing waste, or just naturally driven to create organizational change, it's essential to nominate member(s) of your team to spread awareness, build positive habits, and help enforce the compliance with food regulations when it comes to reducing waste.
2. set goals and develop a strategy
Before getting started, set goals and develop a strategy to help reach those goals. This plan can help you figure out where to start, how to set realistic timelines, which organizations to engage with, which strategies make sense to implement, and much more.
3. Connect with food-waste recovery Programs
Food recovery programs will work with your business, school, grocery store, or restaurant to collect food and redistribute to those in need. For example, the Food Recovery Network works with schools to recover food waste that would otherwise go to waste. 412 Food Rescue partners with food retailers and nonprofit organizations to redistribute products not fit for sale, but still in good condition to individuals in need. Thankfully, many other organizations dedicated to tackling food waste exist throughout the country!
4. Make Donations
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 11.1% of U.S. households were food insecure at some time during 2018. Businesses can combat this problem by donating their unspoiled food to those in need. Any business from grocery stores, to farmers, to hotels, can become a food donor. Trader Joe's has established a food donation program that gives perfectly good, but unsellable food to food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens. In 2018, Trader Joe's donated nearly $370 million of products or 72 million pounds of food!
5. Work With Dining Services and Food Vendors
Work with the dining services, food vendors, and cafes in your building to discuss food reduction options. Start by adding signage in dining halls, reevaluating portion sizes, and adjusting menu sizes.
6. Establish a redistribution system
Start from within your organization. Redistributing food to students, faculty, staff, or workers in need can help make a huge difference. It's truly a win-win situation. It provides food directly to those in need, boosts company morale, helps achieve environmental goals, and saves on waste disposal costs!
7. Compost, Compost, Compost!
Composting is the most natural form of giving back to the Earth! It turns organics into valuable resources and will help reduce methane and greenhouse gas emissions, reduce reliance on synthetic fertilizers, and add nutrients back to our soil. Implementing a composting program also keeps heavy food waste out of the trash, lowering your recurring monthly costs. And not only is it good for business, but composting truly closes the loop!
What is your business doing to help reduce the food waste problem? We'd love it if you let us know in the comments section below. If you have any questions, or want to learn about how RoadRunner can help your business recycle more, get in touch with us today. Thank you for reading!