On a Mission to Reduce Food Waste
July 26, 2012
Food waste is a highly visible and urgent challenge facing the U.S. and the world, especially in light of an increasing number of people who are struggling with hunger. Despite the industry’s significant efforts to reduce waste and improve operating efficiencies, 30 percent of all food grown and processed is never eaten.
Currently, according to a new study by the non-profit sustainability group BSR commissioned by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute(FMI), post-harvest food waste levels in the U.S. are approximately 121 billion pounds per year, or 390 pounds of food waste per person annually. Most of that food waste – about 80 billion pounds a year -- is being sent to landfills, contributing to greenhouse gasses and forfeiting opportunities to be used productively in other ways. From an economic standpoint, food waste sent to landfill represents an opportunity for improved efficiencies and cost savings for businesses and consumers.
These challenges present a tremendous opportunity for diverse stakeholders from food retail, restaurants, food manufacturers, hunger relief agencies, government and NGO’s to come together in partnership to find solutions, and that’s exactly what’s happening. Just such a diverse group, led by GMA, FMI, and the National Restaurant Association are focused on tackling this issue with an aggressive strategy that will send more edible food to the hungry and move food waste from landfills toward productive uses such as animal feed, waste-to-energy and composting.
As part of an aggressive three year plan, the industry’s Food Waste Coalition is assessing the current industry landscape to better understand challenges and existing practices; engaging with key stakeholders to identify new technologies, emerging solutions and model practices to reduce and repurpose food waste; and working on policy proposals that will make food donation to the hungry more user-friendly for business when that food is safe, wholesome and edible. There is a groundswell in the food and CPG industry of leading companies who are undertaking innovative strategies to reduce food waste. These efforts are being met with tremendous rewards in terms of reducing shrink, cutting costs, feeding the hungry, and exciting avenues for “turning trash into cash” such as waste-to-energy and composting programs.
Food waste is an issue that is gaining traction worldwide for reduction at all levels -- from the farm to the fork -- with government, business, NGOs and consumers all becoming more engaged and focused on making significant change. One of the most important things that will move this work forward faster will be companies’ willingness to share ideas and model practices with the industry. One of the Coalition’s most valuable work products will be a published collection of model practices and strategies for reducing food waste. We’ll share some of those ideas and success stories here very soon. In the meantime, to get your company started, consider undertaking the following steps to start developing food waste policies and action plans:
- Conduct waste audits to find out exactly how much and where your food waste is going.
- Explore alternatives for food waste – whether it is waste–to- energy, animal feed, composting or other alternatives.
- See how your company is already engaged in food rescue efforts and identify donation strategies and local partnerships that can help assess what is working for your company and areas of opportunity.
Reducing food waste to landfills, finding productive uses for food waste and feeding the hungry present some of the most impactful ways that our industry and stakeholders can work together to save money and address hunger in a pre-competitive manner. Stay tuned, we’ll be sharing specifics on who’s doing what in our next column.
Stay tuned, we'll be focusing on strategies for food waste reduction at the Sustainability Summit, October 3-5 as well as sharing best practices and case studies to help the industry in upcoming columns.
This article was co-authored by Megan Stasz, senior director sustainability for the Grocery Manufacturers of America and Jeanne von Zastrow, senior director of sustainability and industry relations for the Food Marketing Institute.
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