Food Waste Solutions | 6 mins read

Solutions to Curb Food Waste

solutions to curb food waste
Dakota Sheetz

By Dakota Sheetz

Insight into Wastefulness

How many times have you ordered more food than you actually need and end up storing takeout packaging in your fridge or throwing leftovers away?

This scenario is just one of the many reasons why food waste is one of the top sustainability problems globally and finding food waste solutions has become paramount today.

A recent study found that people waste about 727 or 25% calories of food a day based on 2011 data. The same study also found that people in wealthier countries waste more food compared to developing countries.

In fact, the United States is one of the biggest contributors to food waste according to the EPA, with Americans wasting an estimated 40 million tons of food annually.

Advances in technology aiding the mass production of food contribute significantly to food waste. Fortunately, technology, combined with preventive measures, can also be used to solve food waste.

What is Food Waste?

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FAO defines food waste as the decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by retailers, food service providers, and consumers.

This differs from food loss which is defined as the decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by food suppliers in the chain, excluding retailers, food service providers, and consumers.

At the retail and consumer levels, the USDA's Economic Research Service estimates about 3040 percent of the food supply is wasted. Unfortunately, the restaurant industry is a significant contributor to food waste in America.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average US household spends over $3,000 a year dining out. This activity not only leads to food waste, but it also generates a ton of garbage from disposable utensils and packaging. As a result, the foodservice industry spends approximately $162 billion annually on food waste.

To put it in perspective, food waste ends up being the single largest category of material in municipal landfills which could have provided nourishment to many families in need.

Additionally, disposing of food waste also entails additional resources -- land, manpower, energy, water, among others which could be used for other meaningful activities.

Although restaurants are already incorporating recycling into their operations, long-lasting food waste solutions will entail multi-level cooperation, from the national government to businesses and down to consumers.

Solutions to Help Prevent Food Waste

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To address the persistent issue of food waste in the United States, the USDA and EPA set a goal to cut the country's food waste in half by 2030.

Along with the FDA, these agencies signed a formal agreement under the Winning on Reducing Food Waste Initiative which aims to educate Americans about the significant effects of cutting down food loss and food waste.

As part of the initiative, the USDA, EPA, and FDA issued the FY2019-2020 Federal Interagency Strategy detailing six priority areas for curbing food waste. These six action areas are as follows-

  • Priority Area 1- Enhance Interagency Coordination
  • Priority Area 2- Increase Consumer Education and Outreach Efforts
  • Priority Area 3- Improve Coordination and Guidance on Food Loss and Waste Measurement
  • Priority Area 4- Clarify and Communicate Information on Food Safety, Food Date Labels, and Food Donations
  • Priority Area 5- Collaborate with Private Industry to Reduce Food Loss and Waste Across the Supply Chain
  • Priority Area 6- Encourage Food Waste Reduction by Federal Agencies in Their Respective Facilities
The EPA's Food Recovery Hierarchy is a good guidepost for incorporating food waste solutions into your business to help reduce waste and improve your footprint.

Prevention Through Source Reduction
The most important part of curbing food waste it to address it from the source.

The first step is to conduct a waste audit. You can use any of the free EPA tools available to help you measure how much food waste your business generates and identify the sources of food waste to help you craft an effective strategy for food waste reduction.

Second, you can start implementing food waste reduction habits. Here are some actions you can take-
  • Compare your inventory with customer orders.
  • Update menus based on customer orders to increase customer satisfaction and cut down leftovers or uneaten food.
  • Identify areas for improvement in production and handling practices (e.g. reducing preparation waste).
  • Improve storage techniques to avoid food spoilage (e.g. incorporating continuous temperature monitoring devices).
  • Be resourceful with your inventory. For instance, stale bread can be used as croutons and overripe fruits can be used as toppings or pureed for dessert concoctions.
  • Use reasonable serving sizes and remove unnecessary or unpopular garnishes.

Third, you can join EPA's Food Recovery Challenge. This will not only help you gain access to useful tools and resources for food waste reduction, but your business will also gain visibility and recognition for your efforts.

Feed Hungry People
The second tier of the hierarchy is about providing nourishment for the needy instead of throwing out excess food which is still edible.

You can donate to local food banks, shelters, soup kitchens, and pantries with proper guidance from these institutions regarding what food items they need and are willing to accept.

By donating food, you can enjoy potential tax benefits. You can consult The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic's Tax Deduction for Food Donation, a Legal Guide for further information about this.

Feed Animals
The third tier of the hierarchy is to donate food scraps to animals. Handled properly, anyone can donate food to feed animals. You can contact local solid waste, the county agricultural extension office, or public health agency for more information.

Afterward, you can identify the types of food items, frequency, and quantity of scraps you can donate. The Rutgers University and MGM Resorts International have been donating their scraps to feed animals. MGM Resorts International donate many of their food scraps to pig farms.

Industrial Uses
In the fourth tier, EPA suggests repurposing food for industrial uses. Certain foods can be used to generate power for vehicles or a generator.

Food and by-products which should not be sent to landfills, like liquid fats and solid meats, can be sent to the rendering industry for conversion to other products (e.g. soap and cosmetics) or processed into biodiesel or biogas via anaerobic digestion.

The final tier is composting which consumers can also practice as a food waste solution. It is inevitable that there will be parts of the food, whether during preparation or afterward, which are not edible but can be used to fertilize the soil.

This helps to ensure that all the edible parts of the food are consumed and aids to waste less food overall by utilizing the remains for other measures.

Sprouts Farmers Markets diverts about 5.5 million pounds of food to composting facilities as well as local farms.

Key Takeaways

  • Food waste is the decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by retailers, food service providers, and consumers.
  • Americans waste an estimated 40 million tons of food every year.
  • A typical American household spends over $3,000 a year dining out, generating not only food waste but also waste from disposable utensils and packaging.
  • Restaurants spend approximately $162 billion annually on food waste.
  • To curb food waste, EPA recommends food waste prevention in 5 tiers- prevention through source reduction, feeding hungry people, feeding animals, using food for industrial uses, and composting.