Shrinking Waste Sizes—Food Waste, That Is

Restaurants and grocery stores are getting serious about reducing their food waste footprint—and you can, too.

by Lisa Munniksma
PHOTO: Henning Mühlinghaus/Flickr

Every day, I’m reading about a new food waste initiative from a restaurant, grocery store or college campus. On heels of the ReFED food waste report, it seems institutions are realizing that they (read: we) are the food waste problem.

I don’t need to tell you that upwards of 30 percent of the food supply in this country is wasted. You can blame outdated distribution networks, failed food-chain communications and whatnot, but you know as well as I do that the real reason behind food waste in developed countries is our negligible view toward food. There are very many people who think it’s OK to let their lettuce mix go slimy because they can just go to the Piggly Wiggly and get some more. It grows in bags, after all. I realize I’m being a bit harsh here—you probably grow much of your own lettuce mix and mindfully consumer it—but I’m trying to make a point. I’m also using the example of the average Westerner’s wasteful food views as the reason why more-mindful Westerners need to make a change.

Coming out of the food-service industry are a few restaurants and grocery stores both in the U.S. and abroad who are setting an example we should all learn from.

Starbucks’ FoodShare

By 2021, Starbucks thinks it can provide almost 50 million meals to hungry people just by passing along their delicious egg and spinach wraps (and other prepared foods) to food banks after the food can no longer be sold. Its been doing this with pastries since 2010 and has been working on the logistics of how to add perishable foods to that drop-off.

They finally got it figured out last month.

“When we thought about our vast store footprint across the U.S. and the impact we could make, it put a fire under us to figure out how to donate this food instead of throwing it away,” says Jane Maly, brand manager of the Starbucks Food team. “The challenge was finding a way to preserve the food’s quality during delivery. We focused on maintaining the temperature, texture and flavor of the surplus food, so when it reached a person in need, they could safely enjoy it.”

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Tesco FareShare FoodCloud

In the United Kingdom, grocery-store giant Tesco is partnering with food-redistribution nonprofits FareShare and FoodCloud to alert charity managers when there is excess food available for the taking. Through an app, Tesco store managers enter the food they have to give, and the charity managers can schedule a pickup. It’s being tested in one city now but will be rolled out to other areas as the kinks are worked out. FareShare hopes to use this same technology for other grocery stores down the line.

This program makes me think about how easy it would be for farmers to have the telephone numbers of local gleaning and food-security organizations in their cell phone, send a group text with produce availability, and know it’ll be taken care of.

Denmark’s WeFood

Not just wasted food but also wasted household goods, cosmetics and more are for sale at WeFood in Copenhagen. (Now’s your chance to brush up on your Danish, as the website is not in English.) Shoppers find prices 30 to 50 percent lower than retail, meaning they’re saving money while reducing consumer waste. WeFood works with other supermarkets to take their surplus, damaged goods and foods on the brink of expiration. The proceeds from WeFood sales benefit the nonprofit human-rights and political-advocacy organization DanChurchAid.

New Life For Your Food

On your farm, you might already Plant a Row for the Hungry or work with a gleaning organization in your area. Maybe you give directly to a food bank or an organization that provides meals to others.

In your own kitchen, you probably do your share of putting food by. I’m always looking for other uses of food scraps and ways to get the most out of everything that I’ve worked so hard to grow. I like this blog from FoodCloud with ideas of how to use all of the food that you purchase or produce, from potatoes to peppers and cucumbers to citrus fruits.

What else do you do to reduce the food waste footprint from your farm and kitchen? Share your ideas with us!

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