2014 April Green Guru Spotlight: Food for Thought on Earth Day



April’s Spotlight is on organizations that have taken steps to prevent and reduce food waste and on organizations that are sustainably disposing of food waste. Why? Because a mind boggling 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted each year, or in other words, at least one third of all food produced fails to make it from farm to table. According to a United Nations report, “Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources”, launched September 2013, this wastage is causing economic losses of $750 billion and significant damage to the environment with respect to climate, water and land use, and biodiversity. It is estimated that water volume equivalent to the annual flow of Russia’s Volga River and 28 per cent of the world’s agricultural area is used to produce this food that is ultimately lost or wasted, and the wasted food is responsible for adding 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases to the planet’s atmosphere. Read more about the report here and watch a brief video about the highlights here.  In the US, 40% of food is wasted, which represents 25 percent of all freshwater and huge amounts of unnecessary chemicals, energy, and land. Moreover, almost all of that uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills where it accounts for almost 25 percent of U.S. methane emissions (SOURCE: NRDC). This waste seems particularly tragic because according to some estimates, the world's nearly one billion hungry people could be lifted out of malnourishment on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK and Europe. (Source:


All of us can be a solution to the problem of food waste because all of us use and pay for one or more of these: grocery stores and farmers markets, company cafeterias, school/college cafeterias, restaurants, sports and entertainment venues. Read on for some inspiration!

 Some programs, services, and products that can help you or your organization prevent and reduce food waste:

1.      Gleaning rescues excess fresh foods from farms, gardens, wholesale markets, farmers markets, grocers, restaurants, state/county fairs, public and private property or any other sources in order to provide it to those in need.  In the US, anyone can start a Gleaning initiative by using this gleaning toolkit issued by the USDA.  There are many established gleaning organizations which  connect people and organizations with excess food (including backyard fruit and vegetables) to people in need, such as Ample Harvest, Village Harvest, Second Harvest, and Food Forward. These organizations also connect volunteers to local gleaning initiatives as a way to earn community service or as a corporate team building exercise! (NOTE: The Federal Good Samaritan Food Donation Act protects the donor and the recipient agency against liability)

2.      Tray-less cafeterias: An Aramark study shows that tray-less days saw a 25 percent to 30 percent reduction in food waste per person. The study was done in universities and some universities saw a 30-50% decrease in total food waste! Eliminating trays also saves money by reducing the food waste, eliminating the need for water, energy and detergent to wash the trays, and eliminating the cost of the trays themselves.  It also helps avoid over-eating!

3.      FreshPaper by Fenugreen: Freshpaper keeps fruits and veggies fresh 2-4 times longer, naturally. The product has won many awards for its potential to reduce food waste globally – it is simple to use, has no chemicals, is bio-degradable, compostable and recyclable. Additionally, for every pack of Freshpaper bought the company donates a pack to the needy such as food banks, to extend the life of their food.  

4.      Lean Path is an automated food waste tracking system that helps food service operators such as hospitals, colleges, restaurants, company cafeterias etc. cut food waste by as much as 80% and run greener, more sustainable operations. Two Intel Corp. cafés in Oregon cut their pre-consumer food waste—which had totaled more than a ton per week—nearly in half, and reduced average meal cost by 13%, with the use of Lean Path. Using the system for a year allowed the café managers and chefs to pinpoint where and why waste occurred and to track the success of various solutions.

5.      Food Cowboy: This organization is based on the insight that although the modern global food supply chain is extremely complex it is also more technologically interconnected than ever, and smartphone technology can be used to reduce hunger and waste. Truckers can use Food Cowboy to route wholesome but unmarketable fresh produce to charities and spoiled food to composters and farmers instead of landfills. Local rescue groups can use Food Cowboy to schedule pick-ups from local restaurants and deliveries to soup kitchens.

6.      FlashFood is a mobile app designed by six Arizona State University students, to help food service businesses, food recovery organizations, local community centers, and volunteers to work together to recover perishable food and connect it with those in need. It has won multiple awards since it was launched in 2012. Using the app, foodservice providers (caterers, conference venues, restaurants, grocers, etc.) notify local food banks when they have excess food to donate (and get federal tax deductions in the process). The agencies then use FlashFood to coordinate pickup of the food and text needy families in the community about the upcoming donation and where they can pick it up. FlashFood uses demand prediction technologies and random phone-number generation to help ensure that the food is distributed fairly—streamlining communications at every step of the food-donation process.

7.      Campus Kitchen partners with high schools, colleges and universities to share on-campus kitchen space, recover food from cafeterias, grocery stores etc. and engage students as volunteers and leaders who prepare and deliver meals to the needy in the community. The Campus Kitchen program works at multiple levels: food recovery, meal preparation for donation, meal delivery, student empowerment and community service, community education (nutrition, culinary job training). Watch video.

8.      Feeding5K: This UK based organization works to tackle food waste at the global scale. Their flagship event serves 5000 members of the public a delicious free lunch using only ingredients that otherwise would have been wasted! Events have been organized all over Europe and also in New York.  The organization has two other programs, The Gleaning Network, which coordinates teams of volunteers, local farmers and food redistribution charities in order to salvage fresh, nutritious food and direct it to those that need it most, and The Pig Idea which aims to promote the practice of using legally permissible food waste to feed pigs. 

Some programs, services, and products that can help you or your organization sustainably use and dispose of food waste:

1.      Composting Products:  Food waste can be converted into organic compost. Rotting food waste in landfills emits methane, a greenhouse gas even more potent than Co2, so composting serves a dual purpose of reducing methane in the atmosphere and providing high quality compost for plants. Composting can be done at the individual level or at an organizational level (restaurants, cafeterias etc.) by the use of any number of composters. Several companies offer institutional composters such as Food Cycle Science and Bokashicycle. Whole Foods is one of the pioneers in establishing a composting program to reduce their landfill waste by up to 75%. Spoiled produce and other compostable waste that used to go into landfills is backhauled by their delivery trucks to regional facilities where it is turned into compost. Then, that is donated to community gardens or sold in their stores.

2.      Composting Services: A number of companies offer composting services to organizations with large amounts of food waste. EcoScraps, started by two college students dismayed at food waste at  all-you-can-eat buffets, picks up food waste from retailers like Costco and upcycles it into organic compost and liquid fertilizer which is then sold at stores such as Target and Home Depot. EcoScraps also partners with Feed America and other organizations to recycle consumable food with local food banks, and in some markets, to recycle appropriate food items into animal feed or energy, via anaerobic digestion. California Safe Soil works with supermarkets to convert 100% of the food waste into agricultural fertilizer using enzymatic digestion technology. Compost Cab is a service that picks up food scaps from homes, schools and businesses and takes them to local farms to be turned into compost (currently in Washington, D.C. but with plans to expand to other cities).

3.      Food Waste to Energy:  Post-consumer food waste can be converted to energy via anaerobic digestion in which bacteria break down the food waste and release methane as a byproduct. After the digestion process, the leftover material can be composted and used as a natural fertilizer. This is being done by a number of waste haulers and waste water treatment plants in the US and other parts of the world, such as Zero Waste, EBMUD etc.  At a smaller scale, Emerson’s Grind2Energy provides a custom-designed on-site composting and waste-to-energy system that works for your organization’s food waste volume and location.

4.      Food Waste to animal feed: Surplus food can be used as animal feed. If surplus food provided to animals contains no meat or animal materials, federal laws or regulations do not apply, although there may be state laws that regulate such feeding.  If the surplus food contains animal materials then it needs to be boiled/sterilized before being used as animal feed.  Rutgers University has partnered with a local farm that collects its food waste and feeds it to its hogs and cattle and it costs Rutgers half of what it would cost to send it to landfill.  In Minnesota, a network of family farms formed Barthold Recycling & Roll-off Services which collects food from 400 restaurants, hotels, schools, nursing homes, grocery stores and large food processors to feed 3,800 pigs and 250 head of cattle on its 290-acre facility. Barthold has pioneered both technological and practice innovations to address the bacteria problem.


What can you do to reduce food waste:

1.      Adopt some of these strategies to reduce your food waste: and

2.      Buy products such as EcoScraps, made from food waste, and Freshpaper which extends the life of produce.

3.      Sign up to be a campus kitchen (schools, colleges, universities):

4.      Sign up your organization for the EPA Food Recovery Challenge:

5.      Start a backyard harvesting program in your neighborhood or find a harvesting group to join that provides excess backyard fruit and vegetables to people in need., and

6.      Get your organization to prevent food waste by eliminating trays in cafeterias and by using products and services such as Lean Path, Food Cowboy, Flash Food etc.

7.      Get your organization to sustainably dispose of food waste by using products or services that can convert food waste into compost, energy, or animal feed as outlined above.

Additional Resources:

1.      End Food Waste Now is one of the best organized and comprehensive website on food waste that I came across and has a section on what you can do as an individual and consumer, or if you are a school/university, cafeteria/restaurant, store, etc.     

2.      Food waste facts:   and and

3.      Think Eat Save :  A “Reduce Your Food Print” campaign led by UNEP in collaboration with FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization) and other partners, as well as to FAO’s Save Food Initiative

4.      All about Gleaning:

5.      Reducing food waste in schools (also has links for model programs and what other states are doing)

6.      Food waste reduction and prevention strategies and success stories (Harvard, Intel etc.):

7.      All about food waste:

8.      UN Report “Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources”:

9.      NRDC report on Food Waste:

10.  Comprehensive, brief report on food waste numbers, strategies for preventing and reducing, success stories:

Green Guru: Suparna Vashisht, April 2014

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