Oct 11, 2012 • By

Addressing hunger through food waste reduction

Last week, I attended the Sustainability Summit in Washington, D.C., where I had the great privilege to update the food industry on the great and important work of the Food Waste Reduction Alliance. I was joined by Michael Hewett, director of environmental and sustainability programs at Publix Super Markets. Our two companies are co-chairs for this initiative.

The annual Sustainability Summit is presented by The Trading Partners Alliance, which includes members of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).

A key theme of the conference was how the food industry will be tasked with feeding the world’s growing population.

A major challenge lies in asking Mother Nature to produce more given her finite resources. There was much discussion around how we can more effectively and responsibly manage our supply chains.

As we look for solutions to address global food security, dramatically reducing food waste is and will be a critical strategy.

In America, 40 percent of the food that is produced is thrown away while one in six Americans struggle with hunger. Food waste sent to landfill is the biggest opportunity for our industry to address hunger in America and reduce our environmental footprint.

What’s more, food waste has a dramatic impact on the environment. In fact, food waste is five times more impactful in a landfill than packaging waste. Food waste in landfills creates methane gas, which is a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than CO2.

From a business perspective, it represents opportunities for businesses realize efficiencies and lower costs.

Through the ground breaking work of the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, we have the incredible opportunity to move the industry forward faster to tackle this issue.

We’re working to keep food out of landfills, which saves us money and gets food to hungry people.

The Food Waste Reduction Alliance brings together the manufacturing, retail, and restaurant industries, as well as expert partners from the anti-hunger and waste management sectors.

The program was launched in 2010 by GMA, FMI, and the National Restaurant Association. It has two goals: increase food sent to donation, and decrease food waste to landfills.

The scope of our work includes the section of the supply chain from manufacturing down to in-restaurant consumption.

We’re focused here because we believe this is where we can make the biggest different in the shortest amount of time.

In our first year, we have worked to better understand where food is being wasted. We’ve used the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy as our roadmap to identify opportunities. The EPA hierarchy puts reduction of food waste as the top priority.

After that, the priority uses for food waste should be feeding the hungry, followed by animal feed, industrial use and composting, with incineration or landfill as the least desirable option.

The Alliance worked with non-profit BSR to help us understand where the majority of food is being wasted. What they found was that two-thirds of food is being sent to landfill, which one-third is being diverted to a more beneficial use.

Within our industries we recently surveyed GMA, FMI, and NRA members to better opportunities with our own supply chains. That survey data is being gathered now and the final report will be out by the end of 2012. We’ll update that survey year-to-year to track industry progress as we adopt best practices.

Our challenge and goal is to identify and share best practices that will enable the industry to push more of the food waste safely up the hierarchy.

For further reading about the work of the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, check out this article published Monday on “US retailers and manufacturers team up to tackle food waste.”