Sustainable America Blog

Food Waste For Fresh Produce

Hello Compost bags

Let’s consider a productive food waste cycle: Instead of throwing away organic food waste, it can be turned into compost using a variety of methods – worm bins, bokashi bins, traditional compost, etc. The compost produced from the waste is then added to the soil where you grow food, in turn creating more fresh produce. It’s a brilliant and sustainable system, but not everyone has the time or resources to compost and reuse all their food waste. To bridge the gap, an innovative project will soon be helping low income families trade in their food waste directly for fresh produce.

An entrant into Fast Co.Design’s Innovation By Design Awards, Hello Compost was started by Parsons design students Aly Blenkin and Luke Keller, who came up with the concept as part of an academic thesis.

From their project profile, their goal is clear: “The premise of our project is simple: food waste is valuable. And not just toward reducing our environmental footprint, but as a source of economic opportunity. The $1,365 the average family loses to food waste doesn’t vanish into thin air; it turns into organic matter that often goes to landfills. Through organic waste collection however, food waste can become compost that can be packaged and sold….Put simply, food is too valuable to be wasted. Through our service, we’re promoting food waste as a resource for low-income families.”

About 35 percent of the waste generated by more than eight million New Yorkers is organic matter that can be composted. Hello Compost wants to incentivize low-income New York residents to minimize that staggering amount of food waste. Sixty participants in a pilot program in Harlem this fall will be provided with stylish, odor-blocking, freezable bags for their food waste. These bags will then collected by Project EATS, a New York urban agriculture nonprofit, who will weigh the bags and assign a credit value. These credits can then be used to purchase produce grown and sold through Project EATS’ farms and markets.

We have heard of curbside composting programs like Garbage to Garden in Portland, Maine, Compost Cab in Washington, DC, and CompostNow in Raleigh, NC, that will collect your compostable food scraps for a small fee. CompostExchange in Athens, Ohio, offers pick-up services along with a Compost Rewards Card that can be used for discounts at local businesses. However, this project may be the first of it’s kind that offers a direct exchange of food waste for fresh produce.

At Sustainable America we have set a goal to cut our nation’s food waste in half by 2035. In addition to food waste reduction, central to our mission is the investment in future leaders of sustainability. We look forward to following Hello Compost’s pilot program. If it’s successful, it will incentivize more people to put food waste to better use and inspire more innovative solutions.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.


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