Oct 22, 2012 • By

General Mills targets food waste

Food waste is a human, environmental and economic tragedy.

The facts are sobering. One-third of all the calories produced every year are wasted – that’s 1.3 billion tons of food waste while one billion people go to bed hungry every night.

Food waste creates vast environmental churn. 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 carbon dioxide.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations projects that the global population will swell to nearly nine billion by 2040, exponentially increasing demand for food. The world will need at least 50 percent more food, 45 percent more energy and 30 percent more water to meet this growing need.

Today, 925 million people – or one in seven people globally – do not have enough to eat, making hunger and malnutrition the No. 1 risk to health worldwide, according to the World Food Programme. Even in a developed nation like the United States, one in six Americans are hungry.

That is why fighting global hunger – and helping to sustainably steward the global food supply – is a priority for General Mills. Making a dramatic reduction in food waste is a critical strategy in the drive for global food security.

Sure, it’s not the only strategy for global food security, but it is one of the most important.

Food Cooperatives: A Critical Role in Reducing Waste

In developing economies, more than 40 percent of food waste occurs between the farm and the market.While in developed economies, more than 40 percent of food waste occurs after final consumer purchase. It’s the oldest of puzzles—getting the right quantities to the right place at the right time before the food goes bad.

Food cooperatives play a critical role in reducing food waste and advancing food security. In developing economies, farmer cooperatives often help provide essential training, labor, and transportation that minimize waste by harvesting, storing, and transporting effectively and efficiently.

Some of my colleagues at General Mills have had the joy of volunteering through Partners in Food Solutions to support a cooperative called COMACO (Community Markets for Conservation) in Zambia, founded by the Wildlife Conservation Society. COMACO purchases maize, soy, peanuts, and rice from smallholder farmers and converts those into value added products that are sold throughout Zambia with premiums going to farmers in the cooperative for implementing conservation behaviors.

General Mills’ employee volunteers have worked to help improve COMACO’s operations, develop new products and improve quality and food safety resulting in more purchases from members.

Addressing the Food Waste Challenge through Industry Collaboration

In the United States, the Food Waste Reduction Alliance is playing a critical role in organizing a large segment of the food marketplace to better address this challenge. It’s a big challenge, where over 60 million tons of food waste is generated every year.

The Alliance is made up of the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, The Food Marketing Institute, the National Restaurant Association and many member companies. At General Mills, we have the honor of co-chairing the work of this Alliance. The goals of the Alliance are to reduce the amount of food going to landfill and increase the amount of food going to hungry people.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s [EPA] Food Recovery Hierarchy has served as a roadmap for the work on how to recover what might otherwise become food waste.

The Alliance worked with nonprofit BSR to help understand where the estimated 60 million tons of food is being wasted. What they found was that two-thirds of it is being sent to landfill, and only a very small proportion is going to feed hungry people. We can do better than this. We must do better than this.

Our challenge and goal is to identify and share best practices that will enable the industry to push more of the food waste up the hierarchy. So the Alliance is focusing on promoting best practices, emerging solutions, and efficient policy.

Emerging Solutions: From College Campuses to Supply Chain

There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Through our work, we have identified the emergence of an entire cottage industry that is making better use of what otherwise might be waste. For example, we met a food waste broker who is making a living out of organizing the collection of food waste and turning it into something more beneficial like compost or bio-gas or animal feed.

In my work, I also advise a small startup called the Food Recovery Network, started by a group of college entrepreneurs who realized how crazy this challenge is in a modern society. They organize other college students to safely take the excess prepared food from foodservice operations on their campuses to homeless shelters and food banks – a much more productive use of what might otherwise be waste.

General Mills understands the critical role of food in the world. No issue will be more important than the need to ensure food security for a hungry world and it is a critical challenge for both food manufacturers and consumers.

We devote considerable time via our Holistic Margin Management Initiative and Continuous Improvement efforts to identifying and removing waste from our operations. We’ve reduced overall waste generation at our manufacturing plants by 34 percent since 2005.

In our supply chain, we have established new systems to more effectively identify opportunities to capture food, such as surplus ingredients or over-runs of seasonal or promotional packaging, for donation. From promotional cereal boxes and snack bars to ingredients like flour and chocolate chips, we’re continuously looking for opportunities within our supply chain to rescue food from landfill and donate to food shelves.

The examples are numerous.

This spring, an employee saved a $650,000 surplus of pineapple pouches that go into our Wanchai Ferry frozen entrées by donating them to Feeding America. We redirected nine truckloads of excess promotional cereal boxes that were developed for one of our customers from landfill to donation.

One of our facilities identified an opportunity to donate nearly 300,000 cake mix pouches – totaling 90,000 pounds – to food banks in Minnesota, western Wisconsin and San Antonio, Texas. Collectively, these recipient organizations serve hundreds of thousands of hungry people – many of them children.

Taking Personal Responsibility

While the market continues to push for efficiency, we should ask ourselves what we could do in our personal lives to make a difference. My version of source reduction (i.e., using less in the first place) has been to become the biggest fan of leftovers at our house. Over the past year, I have fallen in love with reheated, rehashed, re-seasoned, and remixed. I add a few frozen peas, corn and a little pepper and voila!

You get the picture.

So, what’s your better use? How will you be part of the solution?

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on CSRwire.