food donations

Reduce Food Waste to Make a Difference This Holiday Season

The holiday season is almost here—a time to share gifts, food, and happiness with friends and family. It’s also a time to remember those struggling to make ends meet. This holiday season, consumers and businesses can make a difference by reducing food waste, which helps save money, feed the hungry, and protect the environment.

The facts are striking: Americans throw out a third of all the food we grow, harvest, and buy, costing the average family of four $1,600 every year. Not only do 25% of our nation’s freshwater supplies go toward growing food that never gets eaten; food waste also creates 13% of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Fortunately, there’s a lot we can do to reduce the food waste that’s costing our families, depleting our natural resources, and contributing to climate change.

Plan ahead—before meals, especially large meals at the holidays, plan out how much food you and your guests need and stock up accordingly. EPA’s Food: Too Good to Waste program offers families toolkits to reduce food waste and save time and money at the check-out line.

Store safely—properly storing leftovers keeps them safe to eat longer. Using individually sized containers makes them easy to grab for another meal later.

Donate excess—According to the USDA, 1 out of 6 Americans struggle to put food on the table. By donating excess canned and dried foods to food banks and shelters, we can help those in need while protecting the environment.

Compost food scraps— make waste work for you. Instead of throwing out scraps, composting keeps food out of landfills and provides valuable nutrients for your garden.

And before food ever leaves the shelves, businesses can play a vital role by joining over 785 organizations taking part in EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge. By keeping better track of food inventories and setting food waste prevention goals, businesses can lower purchase and waste disposal costs, avoid wasted employee time, and improve bottom lines.

Major organizations are leading in this area. Disneyland, MGM Resorts International, Nestle USA, and all the teams in the National Hockey League are just some of the participants in our Food Recovery Challenge. I look forward to seeing continued success as we follow through on our obligation to protect the environment and our fellow citizens.

This holiday season, let’s commit to reducing food waste so we can help feed the hungry, fight climate change, and save money. When businesses and consumers work together, we all win.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Celebrating America Recycles Day by Not Wasting Food!

By Sarah Dominguez

Yesterday I opened up the produce drawer in my fridge to put away some apples. Lying inside were two wilted heads of lettuce and a rotting zucchini. Thankfully, we have curbside compost collection in the Bay Area, so I made a mental note to remind my roommate to put inedible food in the compost bin.

Later that day at work, preparing for America Recycles Day on November 15th, I realized that my conversation with my roommate shouldn’t be just about the correct bin to use, but also about preventing the food from being wasted in the first place. That lettuce and zucchini could have been a delicious salad. Before I came to the EPA, I had a vague idea that I shouldn’t waste food. But now every time I throw out food I don’t just see dollar signs- I see the wasted water, energy and methane produced by food waste.

This year for America Recycles Day, we’re focusing on wasted food and the many ways it can be avoided, especially through donation to those in need. We are not talking about wilting vegetables when we mention donation, but instead fresh, safe to eat food that is donated before it expires. There will be food donation focused events across the country:

  • In Wilmington, Delaware, the grocer ShopRite is meeting with their partners at the Delaware Food Bank to donate food they must take off their shelves, but that is edible and wholesome.
  • In Washington State, Joint Base Lewis-McChord is encouraging attendees of their 4th Annual Recycling Extravaganza to bring non-perishable food items to donate to the Tacoma Rescue Mission.
  • The University of Texas, Arlington is celebrating America Recycles Day with a Campus Sustainability Food Drive. Their event is helping to spread awareness about wasted food and food insecurity.

For my roommate, it was too late to donate his vegetables (but not too late to feed the soil through composting). But if I share with him the implications of wasted food and strategies to reduce it (like meal planning, proper storage or recipe creativity), next time he can avoid tossing a head of lettuce and maybe make dinner for me at the same time.

About the author: Sarah Dominguez is a University of Southern California Masters Fellow in EPA’s San Francisco Office. She works on the Sustainable Materials Management Program’s Food Recovery Challenge. In her Urban Planning program at USC, she studies sustainable land use and environmental justice focusing on the built environment.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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September is Hunger Awareness Month

By Sarah Dominguez

As a kid, I considered “food waste” to be the uneaten broccoli I left on my plate. Today, as a University of Southern California Masters Fellow with the EPA, my definition has changed dramatically. Why? I’ve since learned that wasted food includes much, much more than vegetables avoided by picky eaters. In fact, a significant portion- over 20 percent- of all the waste that is dumped into our landfills each year is… wasted food. Even more compelling is how food waste contributes to climate change by producing methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And here’s the worst part- while 1 in 6 American’s struggle to find their next meal, a significant portion of what goes into the landfills is wholesome, edible food.

Armed with this knowledge, I and a team of others here at EPA are dedicated to feeding people, not landfills through the Sustainable Materials Management Program’s (SMM) Food Recovery Challenge. As we focus on the Challenge for Hunger Awareness Month, we recognize that the efforts to divert food from landfills is part of the solution to the hunger epidemic. If nearly 14% of our nation’s population does not have reliable access to food, it’s almost too simple – instead of throwing away wholesome, edible food, why not donate it to someone in need?

A large amount of food going to landfills from commercial kitchens or grocers is still wholesome and edible. For example, a store may throw away a three-pound bag of oranges even if just one starts to go bad. If instead the grocer removes the one bad orange and donates the rest, they can provide a fresh healthy alternative to the typical non-perishable items in food banks. For example, in 2011 Oregon-based grocer, New Seasons Markets, donated 1,040 tons of food to local food rescue organizations. That’s a lot of meals and a lot of avoided waste that results in cost savings and support to local communities. Many other organizations see the value in feeding those in need by donating. They are working with EPA through the Food Recovery Challenge to improve sustainable food waste management practices through donation and other approaches such as improved purchasing, and composting.

Why should nutritious food end up in the dumpster when there are 50 million people in the U.S. that don’t know where their next meal is coming from? While there are challenges to food donation such as refrigerated trucks for perishables, there are also misconceptions that can be overcome through education. For example, some potential food donors may worry about liability, but the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act has protected food donors since 1996 (as long as the donor follows proper handling laws and donates in good faith). Thankfully more and more organizations are signing up for the SMM Food Recovery Challenge, showing how we can address environmental and equity challenges simultaneously by finding ways to feed people instead of landfills. As an individual, you can help by donating food too. Learn how.

Let’s keep this Food Recovery Challenge conversation going, not just in September for Hunger Awareness Month, but all year long.

About the author: Sarah is a University of Southern California Masters Fellow in EPA’s San Francisco Office. She works on the Sustainable Materials Management Program’s Food Recovery Challenge. In her Urban Planning program at USC, she studies sustainable land use and environmental justice focusing on the built environment.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Intern Army Mission: Donation By Force”

By: Kathleen Oxley and Courtney Talcott (Region 1 Interns)

As EPA interns we are met with many complicated tasks that full-time employees look forward to giving to the bright eyed, flip flop wearing, over-zealous students who enter their building every summer. In Region 1, the interns in the Office of the Regional Administrator were told that their biggest task this summer was to somehow convince employees to donate at least a thousand pounds of food for the annual Feds Feed Families summer food drive.

After hearing about the lack of donations last summer, one of the new interns worried the mission was impossible, “No one is ever going to give us cans, just awkward eye contact and quiet hellos.” Therefore we came together, with all our unique and various academic interests (from environmental science to international relations), and came up with a full-fledged plan of attack.

“We can go about it like the Allied forces in World War II: surround the enemy (unwilling employees) until they are forced to surrender food,” said the international relations major who had really wanted a State Department internship. We set up a command center in front of the elevators to constantly remind employees of our ever begging presence. We stalked people in their cubes to make sure they were not harboring any possible donations. “Who are these creepy kids and why do they keep pushing around a cart?” said one reluctant scientist.

After a week, our efforts were not successful, so we went to plan B: engage employees with some friendly competition. The Regional Administrator’s office was planning an employee awards ceremony and we used that to our benefit: stage a Feds Feed Families invasion. We organized a canned food castle building contest (going along with the beach theme for the ceremony) among offices to encourage people to donate as well as give people a good excuse to take a long lunch for the “benefit of the office.” It worked! 892 pounds later and some great effort from the regional laboratory in Chelmsford, MA: we had a winner (the Lab) and more items donated in one event than Region 1 produced after an entire summer of effort last year.

We realized that this mission was possible; it just took an army of interns to get the job done! We may not be able to test drinking water or write enforcement policy, but as interns we engaged employees to help the people in their community, by just donating a few cans, so that they can enjoy the environment the EPA works to protect.

About the authors:Courtney Talcott is a rising senior at Bates College, where she majors in Environmental Studies and plays both soccer and softball. Courtney was a volunteer intern in Region 1’s Office of Public Affairs this summer.

Kathleen Oxley is entering her first-year as a law student at Elon University. She graduated from Boston University this past May, where she studied International Relations and Political Science. She has interned in the EPA Region 1 Public Affairs Office for the past year and will miss it greatly when she moves to North Carolina.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.