Earlier this month, the USDA and the EPA teamed-up to launch the U.S. Food Waste Challenge. The challenge asks individuals and groups from every facet of the food system – including farmers, producer groups, processors, manufacturers, retailers, communities, government agencies, and consumers – to reduce the amount of food waste sent to landfills. The agencies have set a goal to reduce food loss and waste, recover edible, nutritious food for human consumption, and recycle discarded food to other uses including animal feed, composting, and energy generation.
By taking this important step, the U.S. joins countries like the U.K. that have already taken nationwide action against food waste. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has stated that food waste is a moral issue in a country where people go hungry. In our 2013 Food and Fuel public opinion survey, we found that 6 in 10 Americans know someone personally who has struggled recently to afford food. Reducing food waste can help make more food available to those who are struggling.
With the announcement, the USDA has committed to attacking food waste on many fronts. Notable commitments include:
Working within the existing system to reduce waste on a large scale. Rio Farms, Unilever, General Mills, and the Food Waste Reduction Alliance (whose members include heavy-hitters like the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Food Marketing Institute, the National Restaurant Association, McDonald’s, Walmart and Waste Management, to name a few) have already taken the challenge and established goals for food waste reduction. Any individual or organization can take the Food Waste Challenge here.
Improving data on food loss estimates at the retail level, as well as where losses occur from “farm to fork.”
Reducing food loss and waste in the school meals programs by reducing discarded food and encouraging schools to donate edible foods to eligible organizations. The USDA will help schools accomplish this by collecting data, providing guidance, support and instructional materials, and offering technical assistance to further encourage “offer versus serve” and family-style service in school meal programs. According to the USDA, “Offer vs. serve and family-style services in childcare can reduce plate waste by allowing kids to select types/amount of foods.”
“Many aesthetically imperfect fruits and vegetables are actually prohibited from sale, and sometimes even from donation, by marketing orders (industry standards, enforced by USDA, that establish certain rules of sale, including creating “grades” of product). Much of this product is perfectly edible and nutritious. As part of the challenge, USDA will try to increase the ability to donate some of the products that are prohibited from sale, starting with table grapes. In addition, they will also aim to facilitate more donations of the 48 million pounds of produce rejected at ports annually.”
Using social media to provide clarification on “use by” and “sell by” dates, and to educate the public on how to properly store food. Both of these efforts should help to decrease food waste by consumers.
Research – The USDA has obtained funds for research into different methods of recycling food waste into usable products, including a peat moss substitute, dietary supplements and even body care products. You can read about the ongoing research projects here. They have also committed to research enabling the creation of new technologies for reducing spoilage of fresh foods from farm to fork.
The fight against food waste is nothing new to Sustainable America. Our stated goal has always been to cut our nation’s food waste in half by 2035, using strategies similar to those outlined by the USDA this month. Sustainable America’s latest survey results show that 60 percent of Americans believe reducing food waste at restaurants and grocery stores is the best way to increase food availability in the U.S., which is very much in line with both the USDA’s strategy and our own. Sustainable America is also working with a number of organizations to accomplish zero food waste goals, starting with Stamford, Connecticut’s own Alive@Five outdoor summer concert series. Look for our compost bins at Alive@Five concerts this summer! We are thrilled about the USDA and the EPA’s commitment to cutting food waste, and support the U.S. Food Waste Challenge.