One in six Americans is food insecure, yet 40% of America’s edible food goes to waste every year.
Those statistics paint the grim picture of the state of food and how much we’re wasting in the U.S. Enter the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, an initiative jointly established by the Food Marketing Institute, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the National Restaurant Association in 2011 to work together to fight food waste, increase food donations to those in need and to recycle unavoidable food waste.
“We’re three big associations dealing with one big problem; we’re hoping to educate on the Food Waste Reduction Alliance’s efforts to reduce, reuse and recover,” said Heather Garlich of FMI.
Most recently, the FWRA created easy-to-read infographics (right, click to enlarge) related to a benchmark analysis on food waste, which aims to help those in the industry understand just how crucial it is to get involved — as Christy Cook, senior manager of sustainability field support for Sodexo North America‘s office of sustainability and corporate social responsibility, puts it, “food waste not only takes a toll on the environment, it also has economic and social impacts.”
“Diverting surplus food to agencies that help to feed the hungry is a great way to support our local communities,” Cook said. “Sodexo not only advocates for such initiatives, it engages its employees and mobilizes youth to participate in numerous ways. At Sodexo, we are actively working on source reduction to reduce waste before it ever gets to our sites. Using the EPA Food Waste Hierarchy, feeding hungry people is next after source reduction and Sodexo has a comprehensive program to address food donations.”
The benchmark analysis addresses food donations and recycling as both key solutions but also top barriers to reducing food waste. With Feeding America at the table as a founding member of the alliance, the FWRA is already well connected with food donation systems. And using the data it has collected, FWRA will continue to work with food donation banks and organizations, as well as recycling facilities, to identify both real and perceived barriers to donation that can be addressed now, Gail Tavill, vice president, sustainable development, ConAgra Foods, and a chair of FWRA, told us.
“In some cases, that may mean simply clarifying a misperception, such as those related to the perceived risk of donating that can be minimized with the Good Samaritan Act and other well defined food safety practices of the Feeding America network agencies,” she said. “The FWRA has also developed a network of strategic advisers, many of whom represent resources related to recycling of food, like the Dairy Management Institute and the U.S. Composting Council. It is critical that we work collaboratively across our industries and these sectors to limit duplication of efforts and make strategic improvements.”
For the past several years, FWRA has also been meeting with government agencies, NGOs, trade associations and the private sector, according to Michael Hewett, director of environmental and sustainability programs, Publix Supermarkets, and also a chair of FWRA.
“Being a convener of stakeholders is an important part of the FWRA’s mission, and will be key to educating everyone about this important issue while building the infrastructure needed to increase food donations and food waste recycling,” Hewett said.
To measure progress in reducing food waste, the FWRA has committed to surveying member companies every two years to look at trends and report on the effects of the industry on food waste. The surveys go out to the broad membership of FMI, GMA and NRA, and the reports are published online.
“However, results of these surveys can only be considered directional unless and until more companies voluntarily disclose their data to the survey.” Tavill pointed out. “We’ve had great adoption and participation so far and are pleased with the commitments of our members, but it is still only a subset of the total industry. We believe we are leading the charge on these issues and encourage our peer companies to get engaged in this issue.”
FWRA is also working with the World Resources Institute on its effort to establish a new Food Loss and Waste Protocol, which will establish a global standard for measuring this problem so better opportunities for improvement can be identified, Hewett said.
Earlier this year, the FWRA released a Best Practices & Emerging Solutions toolkit to help businesses cut down on the estimated 80 billion pounds of food waste that ends up in landfills every year in the U.S.
“Many of our member companies are already deeply engaged in the issue of food waste, but it’s not yet a mainstream priority,” Tavill said. “For all of us, I think the biggest opportunity is to make this a mainstream, cultural issue. As we’ve discovered that much of the food waste is generated in home and at ‘the fork,’ it’s imperative that consumers play a role in solving this problem.”
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