US EPA releases report on environmental impacts of US food waste

EPA infographic on environmental impacts of US food waste
Image from US EPA Office of Research and Development.

On November 30, 2021, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new report entitled “From Farm to Kitchen: The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste (Part 1).”

This report reveals the climate and environmental impacts of producing, processing, distributing, and retailing food that is ultimately wasted and projects the environmental benefits of meeting the US goal to prevent 50 percent of food waste by 2030. The report was prepared to inform domestic policymakers, researchers, and the public, and focuses primarily on five inputs to the US cradle-to-consumer food supply chain — agricultural land use, water use, application of pesticides and fertilizers, and energy use — plus one environmental impact — greenhouse gas emissions.

This report provides estimates of the environmental footprint of current levels of food loss and waste to assist stakeholders in clearly communicating the significance; decision-making among competing environmental priorities; and designing tailored reduction strategies that maximize environmental benefits. The report also identifies key knowledge gaps where new research could improve our understanding of US food loss and waste and help shape successful strategies to reduce its environmental impact.

The new report reveals that each year, the resources attributed to US food loss and waste are equivalent to:

  • 140 million acres agricultural land – an area the size of California and New York combined;
  • 5.9 trillion gallons blue water – equal to the annual water use of 50 million American homes;
  • 778 million pounds pesticides;
  • 14 billion pounds fertilizer – enough to grow all the plant-based foods produced each year in the United States for domestic consumption;
  • 664 billion kWh energy – enough to power more than 50 million US homes for a year; and
  • 170 million MTCO2e greenhouse gas emissions (excluding landfill emissions) – equal to the annual CO2 emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants

In short, significant resources go into growing, processing, packaging, storing, and distributing food. Thus, the most important action we can take to reduce the environmental impacts of uneaten food is to prevent that food from becoming waste in the first place.

A companion report, “The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste: Part 2,” will examine and compare the environmental impacts of a range of management pathways for food waste, such as landfilling, composting, and anaerobic digestion. EPA plans to complete and release this second report in Spring 2022. Together, these two reports will encompass the net environmental footprint of US food loss and waste.

Read the full report at https://www.epa.gov/system/files/documents/2021-11/from-farm-to-kitchen-the-environmental-impacts-of-u.s.-food-waste_508-tagged.pdf.  (PDF document, 113 pages)

For questions, contact Shannon Kenny, Senior Advisor, Food Loss and Food Waste, US EPA Office of Research and Development.

International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, September 29, 2021

Today is the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, as designated by the United Nations General Assembly Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). According to the FAO, globally, around 14 percent of food produced is lost between harvest and retail, while an estimated 17 percent of total global food production is wasted (11 percent in households, 5 percent in the foodservice, and 2 percent in retail).

When food is wasted, we’re not only wasting valuable nutrients in a world where countless people struggle with food insecurity and/or malnutrition, we’re also wasting all the resources invested in the production of that food, including water, land, labor, and capital. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), up to 40% of food in the US goes uneaten, while 1 in 8 Americans struggle to obtain the food they need.

Additionally, when food is disposed of in landfills, its decomposition within landfills produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is more powerful than carbon dioxide in terms of global warming potential, which is defined as the heat absorbed by any greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, as a multiple of the heat that would be absorbed by the same mass of carbon dioxide. According to the US EPA, methane accounts for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the US.

Thus, preventing food waste, and where possible, disposing of unavoidable food waste through strategies other than landfilling (e.g. diverting to animal feed, composting, etc.) is important to fight hunger, conserve precious resources, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and combat climate change.

Take time out today to consider the amount of food that is wasted in your home or organization, and think about ways that you might prevent such wastage, as well as more responsible ways to manage surplus food or food scraps by exploring the links listed below. To learn more about the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, visit http://www.fao.org/international-day-awareness-food-loss-waste/en/.

Learn More

  • US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Facts and Figures on Food Waste, plus the 2018 Wasted Food Report.
  • Green Lunchroom Challenge Suggested Activities. Though these activities were developed with K-12 schools in mind, other institutions with foodservice operations (e.g. colleges and universities, hospitals, nursing homes, correctional facilities, etc.) may benefit from adapting these activities for their circumstances.
  • Green Lunchroom Challenge Blog: Tools to Increase Creativity and Reduce Food Waste. This blog post includes tips and tools to help consumers find recipes and suggested uses for edibles on hand that may be unfamiliar or uninspiring.
  • Save the Food. This NRDC website provides a dinner party calculator so you make just the right amount for your event, a tool for menu preparation and customized shopping lists, recipes, storage tips, and a tool to show how much money families of different sizes might save on a daily, monthly, or annual basis by reducing food waste.
  • ReFED Insights Engine. A data and solutions hub for food loss and waste, designed to provide anyone interested in food waste reduction with the information and insights they need to take meaningful action to address the problem.
  • Food Waste Reduction Toolkit for Illinois Schools. This resource from the Wasted Food Action Alliance provides guidance on measuring food waste, reducing it, recovering and redistributing it for human consumption, composting food scraps, and engaging students and the community in food waste initiatives.
  • Illinois Food Scrap Coalition (IFSC). This organization’s website includes information on why composting of food scraps is important, resources to get started composting for residents, government officials, and businesses, and ways for organizations that do compost to earn recognition through the We Compost program. The IFSC is the sponsoring organization of the IL state chapter of the US Composting Council (USCC); readers outside of IL can find their state chapter and additional resources on the USCC website.
  • Feeding America. This US nonprofit organization is comprised of a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks that feed more than 46 million people through food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other community-based agencies. Did you know that September is Hunger Action Month? Find your local food bank and learn how you can donate to help neighbors in need. Illinois residents can visit the Feeding Illinois website. Learn how IL farmers can sell food directly to food banks at https://www.feedingillinois.org/friend/.

VermiCUlture promotes vermicomposting in Champaign-Urbana

VermiCUlture logo

This post originally appeared on the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition (IFSC) blog. Thanks to IFSC and to Madalyn Liberman and Stuart Seputro, two of the groups’ founders, for their insights and assistance with this blog post.

“[Our project] vermiCUlture, which stands for vermicomposting in the Champaign-Urbana area, was started by myself and other Fred S. Bailey Scholar students at the University YMCA as part of the Global YMCA Youth Climate Summit in October 2020,” Madalyn Liberman told IFSC. “As part of this summit, we were tasked with creating a local solution to a climate issue with the chance to receive funding to address that issue. Our project was aimed at addressing the lack of sustainable food waste disposal options in the area by educating community members about food waste/composting and providing training and equipment for individuals to start vermicomposting in their home. We received a little over $9000 to implement this project and have been working on it since last October.”

“With the hope of involving more students on campus and to create a lasting project, we decided to become a registered student organization (RSO) at the University of Illinois this spring. The initial creators of the organization and current executive board members are Stuart Seputro (President), Lavanya Upadhyaya, Griselda Escobedo, Sophie Luijten, and Rebecca Hanks, but we have gained many more students since becoming a RSO. That will soon be showcased on our website,” said Liberman.

The student group notified CU area residents about the program through various newsletters and social media advertisements. Their initial goal was to get 50 participants to receive vermicomposting kits and training, with distribution provided on a first come, first served basis.

At this time, the group doesn’t have many metrics to share, but thus far, 48 participants have engaged with the program. “We were not able to get the full-size kits out to these 48 participants due to supply chain issues as well as issues regarding time and helping hands,” said Liberman. “Instead, we were able to start with a kickoff event with around 30 participants. These participants received mini educational kits containing 5-10 worms and were guided through creating worm bins using old food or takeout containers from their homes. This event, on April 17 and 18, 2021, allowed participants to come in and create their kit in an assembly-line style fashion with explanations about each component of the composting bin (i.e. bedding material, worms, water, etc.). While we weren’t able to get participants the full-sized kits this semester, we have actively been working with local businesses and organizations to take 3-5 gallon buckets off their hands that would otherwise be thrown away or recycled so that we can eventually upcycle them into our full-sized kits. Thus far we have diverted about 35-40 buckets that will be turned into vermicomposting bins. We also hope to source other waste materials for kits in the future, such as shredded paper/cardboard, coffee grounds or chaff from local coffee shops, or other materials that can be used in the creation of vermicomposting kits while also helping to reduce waste. Additionally, I hope in the future when we distribute full-sized kits, that we can calculate the reduced carbon emissions from our participants as well as our own carbon emissions in the sourcing and transport of products.”

VermiCUlture meeting

The group ran into a few challenges while getting this project started, which they hope to address in the future. Liberman explained, “The main challenge we ran into was obtaining worms. There are not many local worm options that have the scale of worms needed for our project (500-1000 worms are needed for one full-size bin). So we needed to ship from across the country to get these worms (we used a supplier in Georgia), which isn’t the most sustainable option. Even still, it is difficult to get a large amount of worms at once. One of our new goals is to create a local worm option by creating a small-scale worm farm in the area. This new project is still very much in the planning phase and we are unsure of how it will work exactly but we are hopeful to get it started this fall semester and make vermicomposting more available to community members. Other challenges we ran into stemmed from all of our members also being full-time students. We quickly realized that the work we needed to do to make the project a success was the kind of work someone would do for a full-time job! To help alleviate this issue, we are planning to restructure the organization and make more leadership positions so that the work is distributed in a way that full-time students can manage.”

Executive board members have met over the summer for planning purposes. With the fall semester approaching, vermiCUlture has also obtained a $10,000 grant from the University’s Student Sustainability Committee (SSC). The SSC is comprised of undergraduate and graduate students who, with the guidance of faculty and staff, allocate $1.1 million for campus sustainability project annually from two student initiated fees–the Cleaner Energy Technologies Fee and the Sustainable Campus Environment Fee. The grant will help vermiCUlture meet their original goals, address the challenges identified above, and overall expand the process of vermicomposting in the Champaign-Urbana area.

vermiculture kit preparation

While Madalyn Liberman is now off to grad-school (congratulations!) and thus, will not be involved in continued efforts in the fall semester, anyone interested in learning more or replicating this project in their own community can contact vermiCUlture President, Stuart Seputro. Also, be sure to check out their website, https://www.vermiculture.eco, and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn to monitor their progress.

 

Upcoming Webinar: Food Waste Reduction Toolkit for Schools

Image of front cover of the Food Waste Reduction Toolkit for Illinois Schools

Interested in reducing school food waste? Attend the webinar on the Food Waste Reduction Toolkit for Illinois Schools on July 27 at noon to learn how!

The Food Waste Reduction Toolkit for Illinois Schools is a comprehensive resource that identifies the main sources of wasted food and offers strategies for food waste prevention, food recovery and redistribution, composting, education and engagement, and celebrating success. The Toolkit’s numerous case studies provide examples of these strategies in action.

Susan Casey & Becky Brodsky from Seven Generations Ahead’s Zero Waste Schools program will provide an overview of the food waste reduction strategies in the Toolkit.

You’ll also hear from these inspiring case study contributors:

  • Lauren Roberts, Gourmet Gorilla, will highlight the Chicago-based school food service company’s food waste tracking system which has led to a 10-15% waste reduction in serving lines.
  • Greta Kringle, Science Teacher, Solorio Academy High School, will share how she integrated zero waste thinking and food waste reduction into her chemistry curriculum and how it became a focus for the Zero Waste Ambassadors Club at this Chicago Public School.

Now is the time to plan how your school can reduce food waste to benefit your students, your community, and the planet.

Click HERE to register for the webinar. Download a pdf of the Toolkit HERE.

The Food Waste Reduction Toolkit for Illinois Schools is a project of the Wasted Food Action Alliance and was developed by SGA in collaboration with partners from the Wasted Food Action Alliance.

UIUC Research Shows Smaller Plates Reduce Food Waste in Dining Halls

UI dining hall

Research conducted by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign scientists from two departments within the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES) demonstrates that the simple act of changing plate size and shape can have a significant impact on food waste in university dining halls.

In an article published in May 2021 in the journal Resources, Conservation & Recycling, authors Rachel Richardson [former graduate student in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics (ACE)], Melissa Pflugh Prescott (assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition), and Brenna Ellison (associate professor in the associate professor in ACE) describe data collected at two dining halls on the Illinois campus in the Fall of 2018. The researchers and dining hall staff monitored and limited the dishware available for patron use.  The only intervention in this study was a change in plate size and shape. Traditionally, the university dining facilities used round plates (9″x9”). In this study, the round plates were replaced with oval platters (9.75″x7.75″), decreasing the plate’s surface area by 6.76%. Both the round and oval plates were tested at each dining hall, and the menu offered was the same for both plate types.

After diners selected their food, but before they sat down at a table, researchers approached them and asked permission to take a picture of their plates and to weigh the plate of food. Participation was incentivized with an entry in a later drawing for a $50 Amazon gift card. Participating diners additionally filled out a survey, and when their plates were brought to the dish return, the researchers took a post-consumption picture and weight measurement. The survey included a question about whether diners went back for seconds; in that circumstance, a post-consumption weight was not recorded.

A total of 1825 observations were collected with 1285 observations retained for analysis. Observations were excluded if the participant: only selected food using non-standard dishware (e.g., only eating a bowl of soup); submitted an incomplete survey; was missing a pre- or post-consumption photo; did not return their plate; or returned plates with different food on them than selected.

Overall, food waste went down from 15.8% of food selected for round plates to 11.8% for oval plates. This amounts to nearly 20 grams (0.7 oz) less food waste per plate. In a setting where thousands of meals are served, this seemingly small reduction could quickly add up. The researchers concluded that changing plate type is a viable strategy to reduce food waste, though dining hall managers need to weigh the cost of purchasing new plates against the potential savings. They speculate that combining the direct-nudge approach of smaller plates with an education campaign could be even more effective.

Read the full article at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2020.105293.

Learn more

Tools to Increase Creativity and Reduce Food Waste

dragon fruit

Food waste in the home can often occur because of boredom or limited knowledge of how to use certain ingredients. A consumer may have leftovers in their fridge that they don’t want to waste, but can’t bear to eat one more time in the item’s current form while simultaneously not knowing how to repurpose the item for a new dish. Or perhaps they’ve acquired an edible item that’s completely new to them, so they’re not sure how to use it in the first place. This can happen when shoppers impulsively buy exotic produce or other ingredients at grocery stores without having performed research ahead of time–maybe the item just looked intriguing on the shelves, or its praises were sung by a friend or trusted podcast, prompting a desire for a new experience without adequate guidance. This type of food waste can also happen, unfortunately, when food banks distribute fresh produce in an effort to promote healthy diets without simultaneously distributing tips on how to use the produce. Donated commodities may not always fall within the range of familiarity for a food recipient, and they may find themselves having no idea what to do with the celery root or artichokes in their pre-packed food box, for example. And even if one is familiar with an ingredient, sometimes it loses its appeal when used in the same way time after time. Imagine a parent who frequently buys peas because their children love them. Those kids might become less receptive to the peas after having them prepared the same way at least once a week for a year.

Recognizing that inspiration is as important a tool in keeping food out of landfills as compost piles and meal planning, the Love Food Hate Waste Canada website includes a section called “Get Inspired.” This section not only includes tips on how to preserve or store foods to prevent waste and meal planning, it also provides a page called “5 Ways With.” This page presents five novel ways to use ingredients in the categories dairy, fruits & veggies, grains & bread, and meat & eggs.

5 ways with page

For example, broccoli stalks are suggested as the basis for fritters or pesto, or as an addition to soups, salads, or stir-frys. Whenever the suggestion calls for more detailed instruction, a link to a recipe is provided.

This web page is by no means the only place to find tips, tricks, and recipes to help you use an ingredient in a new or interesting way before it goes to waste.

The flagship Love Food Hate Waste website, launched by the UK organization Waste & Resources Action Programme, or WRAP, includes a “Recipes” section that allows users to search for ideas based on dietary parameters, preparation difficulty, or cooking time.

CookIt from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Save the Food website helps consumers find recipes for a wide variety of ingredients, including those that are commonly thrown out as scraps, such as overripe avocados or cheese rinds. It also provides ideas for transforming ingredients that are “past their prime” to get the most use out of available food. Some of the recipes are accompanied by videos of Chef Joel Gamoran making the recipe.

save the food.com logo

SuperCook allows users to search for recipes based on ingredients they have on hand. Similar tools include MyFridgeFood, Cookpad, Cookin’ with Google, and the Use Up Leftovers tool on the BigOven recipe database website.

So the next time you’re faced with unfamiliar or uninspiring food, don’t throw it out! Get out your smartphone and consult these online tools and resources to find a way to make that edible appealing.

US Food Loss and Waste Policy Action Plan Pitched to Congress

Screen shot of https://foodwasteactionplan.org/.
Screen shot of https://foodwasteactionplan.org/.

 

As reported in the April 8, 2021 issue of Waste Dive,

“An action plan to curb food loss and waste in the U.S. — pitched to Congress and the Biden administration this week by four organizations and supported by a host of cities, businesses and nonprofits — recommends funding infrastructure that keeps organic waste out of disposal sites by providing state- and city-level investments for measuring, rescuing and recycling it.

Led by the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), ReFED and World Wildlife Fund, the plan also stipulates that federal facilities take steps to prevent organic waste and purchase finished compost products. The organizers urge lawmakers to spur growth of compost markets among private sector buyers as well. 

The plan calls for allocating $650 million annually through at least 2030 to states and cities for organic waste recycling infrastructure and other food waste reduction strategies. It also calls for $50 million for those cities and states to pursue public-private partnerships; $50 million in grants for research and innovation in the space; $3 million annually through 2030 for consumer food waste reduction research and behavior change campaigns; and $2 million to add personnel to the Federal Interagency Food Loss and Waste Collaboration…

Signatories to the policy outline include the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the US Composting Council and Vanguard Renewables.

Currently, city offices in Atlanta, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Madison, Wisconsin, have also formally supported the plan.

While the plan points to job creation, climate and food donation benefits that have resulted from more comprehensive organics laws in California, Massachusetts and Vermont, it also lays out a number of other individual steps local governments can take. They include mandating food scrap recycling, enacting pay-as-you-throw policies and increasing disposal tip fees by adding taxes per unit of trash.”

Read the full story at https://www.wastedive.com/news/food-waste-action-plan-biden-congress-nrdc-refed/598032/.

See also the NRDC’s announcement of the plan and download the action plan itself at https://foodwasteactionplan.org/.

 

Kroger Announces Second Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Innovation Fund Call for Projects

Kroger Zero Hunger Zero Waste Innovation Fund logo

The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation has announced the 2021 call for applications for its Innovation Fund:

“We encourage applications from innovators building high-growth, scalable solutions focused on the following challenge:

We seek to reshape the food system by supporting innovators who are elevating food to its highest use and disrupting the linear supply chain. This could include solutions such as imperfect produce lines, upcycled foods & meal kits, upcycled commercial ingredients and more.”

From applications received, 10 startups will be chosen as the 2021 cohort. Each cohort startup will receive $100,000 in seed funding with an additional $100,000 of grant funding available to each cohort startup based on their achievement of identified milestones. Cohort startups will receive 30+ hours of virtual technical and business mentorship, and at the end of the six-month milestone development period, two of the startups will be selected by their peers for the opportunity to receive impact investments of $250,000.

Applications are due April 1. See https://zerohungerzerowastefoundation.org/application_process.html for complete details and to apply.

Learn More

The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger, Zero Waste Foundation Announces Open Call

 

New Date for Reusable Foodware in School Cafeterias Webinar

In a previous post, I highlighted a webinar organized by Seven Generations Ahead entitled “School cafeterias reimagined: The case for reusable foodware.”

That webinar has been rescheduled for March 16. If you previously registered for the February 16 presentation, you will need to re-register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/new-date-school-cafeterias-reimagined-the-case-for-reusable-foodware-tickets-142275579087.

reusable school lunch tray with food in each compartment plus reusable glass and fork

Upcoming Webinar: Reusable Foodware in School Cafeterias

Seven Generations Ahead will be hosting a free webinar on Tuesday, February 16, 2021 entitled “School cafeterias reimagined: The case for reusable foodware.

From the event website:

Want to create a better dining experience, protect student health, & cut costs, all while reducing waste and its impact on our environment?

Join Seven Generations Ahead to learn how your K-12 school district can reap the benefits of transitioning to reusable foodware. School nutrition professionals from two urban districts will share how they’ve prioritized reusables and what motivated this change. You’ll hear about the impacts on staffing, waste levels, and costs as they make the transition to using dishwashers, bulk milk dispensers, and durable trays, dishes, and utensils.

You’ll also learn about the health and environmental impacts associated with toxins commonly found in single-use foodware, as well as the safety of reusables during COVID and ways to minimize disposable packaging for classroom meals and curbside meal distribution.

Speakers:

  • Sue Chiang, Pollution Prevention Director, Center for Environmental Health
  • Diane Grodek, Executive Chef, Austin Independent School District
  • Eliza Pessereau, Minnesota GreenCorps Waste Reduction Member, Minneapolis Public Schools-Culinary & Wellness Services

This webinar is for school nutrition staff, as well as district administrators, procurement, sustainability, facilities, and operations staff. Teachers, parents, and students are also welcome. The presentations will be followed by a Q&A.”

The webinar is scheduled for 3:00 to 4:15 PM, CST, Feb. 16, 2021.

Register online here.

reusable school lunch tray with food in each compartment plus reusable glass and fork