Food waste or food loss is food that is discarded or lost uneaten. The causes of food waste or loss are numerous, and occur at the stages of production, processing, retailing and consumption. Current estimates put global food loss and waste between one-third and one-half of all food produced.

This week our Round-Up focuses on news and information on this important topic. 

Gleaning is all about feeding the hungry – One major area of food waste in America is in farmers’ fields, where crops that don’t meet top-grade quality are left to rot or be plowed under.  The Biblical concept of gleaning is reemerging as a method, not only for feeding the hungry, but also reducing food waste. According to the Society of Saint Andrews, a group that coordinates thousands of volunteer groups participating in gleaning events. Each year, 35,000 – 40,000 volunteers glean over 20 million pounds of fresh, nutritious produce from farmers’ fields and orchards after the harvest for their hungry neighbors.

Volunteer Participating in a Gleaning Event 

The Institute of Culinary Education and The New School Announce Zero Waste Food Conference — Industry leaders, including acclaimed chef Massimo Bottura, will inspire creative solutions to create more sustainable food networks — The Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) and The New School announce the launch of the Zero Waste Food conference, an exploration of sustainable methods for producing, distributing, consuming and disposing of food in the environments where we cook and where we eat. The conference will take place on April 28 and 29, 2017 at locations on The New School and ICE campuses. Bridging the gap between research and practice, academics, activists, chefs and business leaders and producers will participate in panel discussions, and provide culinary demonstrations and hands-on cooking classes, that uncover innovative techniques for creating delicious meals from food waste.

Congresswoman renews campaign to take on food waste Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree is renewing her efforts to reduce food waste with federal legislation. Pingree, a Democrat, is an advocate for making food donation easier and cutting down on the amount of food that gets thrown out. She is a co-sponsor of The Food Donation Act of 2017, which was introduced on Feb. 7. The bill seeks to modernize food donation rules by expanding liability protections for food donors. Pingree also plans to reintroduce a pair of other food waste bills in the coming weeks. One would address food waste using tools like tax credits, research and a public awareness campaign. The other would standardize date labeling on food by distinguishing between quality and safety date labels.

The global food waste scandalby Megan Tatum –  The world binned or burned the equivalent of £2.9 trillion of food last year. A fetid pile of 1.3 billion tonnes – a third of all the food the world produced – went ‘off’ in fields, factories and family homes, says the FAO, belching out more noxious carbon than any country in the world, with the exception of China and the US.  Stuffed into this squalid mountain of discarded food lie 45% of the world’s fruit and veg, more than a third of its fresh fish and seafood, 30% of its grains and cereals and a fifth of its nutrient-rich dairy and meat – enough food to feed all Africa’s hungry.

Here in the West, our weekly shopping habits, obsession with perfect produce and scrupulous quality controls mean a third of waste happens in the final stages of the supply chain. Whereas in the developing world, as little as 5% of food is wasted by consumers and only 20% during processing, with the overwhelming majority lost in the very early stages of production.  “One of the major reasons is storage and the ability to protect the product from the farm through the supply chain to the customer [versus] a lack of storage facilities, poor distribution networks, and poor transportation,” says Liz Goodwin, former Wrap CEO and now director of food loss and waste at WRI.

The Wisdom of Garbageby JESSICA LEIGH HESTERResearchers are digging into heaps of discarded food to uncover clues about why we throw so much of it away—and how cities can cut the waste. Belinda Li, a project engineer at Tetra Tech, has been dispatched by the Natural Resources Defense Council to excavate hundreds of samples of trash in Nashville, Denver, and New York City—three cities where the NRDC has rooting or established relationships with local organizations. The bin digs are a quest to exhume data from detritus—and from there, to glean information about consumer behavior and food waste.  Trashed food exacts an enormous environmental and economic toll: By some estimates, each American family spends some $1,600 each year on uneaten eats.  

Science is great and gross! Researchers sort through bags of garbage collected in Manhattan(Jessica Leigh Hester/CityLab)

Nationally, there’s a larger push to collect and crunch data about wasted food, and then make those stats publicly available with an eye toward shaping policy. Back in January, the Rockefeller Foundation—which is in the midst of a seven-year, $130 million food waste-reduction initiative called YieldWise—threw its support behind a portal designed by a coalition including the USDA and EPA. The Further With Food website allows users to zero in on the data that’s most relevant to them, sorting by audiences (such as students, restaurant workers, hunger relief groups, and lawmakers), sources (like academic, business, and NGO), and topics (including policy, meal planning, and food rescue).  By the end of June the NRDC intends to spin this new data into a toolkit including sample protocols, case studies, and suggestions for scaling up solutions that have proved successful.

Trade groups push to expire confusing food date labels – Consumers are confronted with more than 10 different date labels on packages. The food industry is working to simplify labels on perishable food. Date stamps like “best by,” “sell by,” “use by” and “best before” can be confusing for shoppers.  Those multiple notifications could soon be reaching their expiration date. The trade groups are moving to reduce those “expiration” labels to just two: “use by” and “best if used by.” They say it’ll not only reduce consumer confusion, but also keep people from wasting perfectly good food, reports CBS news correspondent Jamie Yuccas. The new label guidelines are voluntary, but giant retailer Walmart is already on board. It says it supports the effort to “simplify consumers’ lives” and “reduce food waste.”

 

Jeff Foote

Jeff Foote is Executive Vice President, Sustainability at TreeZero. He’s also an investor. He has helped hundreds of organizations, both large and small, successfully incorporate sustainability strategies into core business functions. Jeff has traveled to all seven continents working to protect and preserve the environment. Jeff’s mission is to help organizations and individuals use fewer resources to sell more, more profitably.