Food Recovery Challenge

This Year’s Super Bowl Filled 70,000 Plates on the Path to Zero Waste

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This post is a follow-up to my “AZ I See It” column in the Arizona Republic on January 26, 2015.

This year during the Super Bowl, the first “Kick the Waste” campaign took place at Super Bowl Central—the 12-block area in the heart of downtown Phoenix where thousands enjoyed parties and live music in the week leading up to the championship game. The city was host to quite a party on Superbowl Sunday. Fans gathered for good football and good food, whether they joined in the downtown celebrations, tailgated outside the stadium, or ordered from vendors in the stands.

All too often, what’s not consumed goes to waste. Every year Americans throw away more food than any other type of waste — almost 35 million tons — and much of it is still edible. The “Kick the Waste” campaign — a collaboration between the city of Phoenix, nonprofit food rescue organization Waste Not, the National Football League, the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, vendors and fans — worked to make sure that any leftover food was shared with those who needed a good meal, and any waste was disposed of in the most beneficial way for the environment.

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Greening the Game

Millions of Americans across the country tuned into the big game a couple weeks ago, which was played for the first time under energy-efficient LED lighting. Why the switch? These lights use at least 75 percent less power than incandescent, saving the venue money on its energy bill and energy, which helps reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

The NFL isn’t alone in its journey to fight climate change by becoming more sustainable. Last week we highlighted a number of leading sports teams, organizations, and venues across the industry who are taking action, including our work with greening collegiate sports though the Game Day Recycling Challenge and the collegiate sports sustainability summit. Recycling conserves vital resources, saves energy, and, in 2012, reduced greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 33 million cars off the road for a year. Recycling also creates green jobs and provides essential resources. And during her recent visit to the X Games in Colorado, our Administrator Gina McCarthy, heard first-hand from athletes and the businesses that support them how they are working to protect their winters from climate change.

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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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Food Recovery Challenge 2012 Award Winners’ Inspiring Accomplishments

By Laurie Solomon

I feel blessed to be a member of EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge team. We’re passionate about reducing food waste, which is a big problem. Americans tossed out more than 36 million tons of food in 2011, almost all of which ended up in landfills or incinerators. Despite all this wasted food, nearly 15 percent of U.S. households were food-insecure in 2012, meaning they didn’t know where their next meal would come from. And here’s one fact that I didn’t know before joining the team: food decomposes rapidly in landfills to generate methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The Food Recovery Challenge asks participants to reduce as much of their food waste as possible – saving money, helping communities, and protecting the environment.

My team recently congratulated nine participants for their significant contributions to reducing food waste in the U.S. in 2012. Wow, is it interesting to see how grocers, universities, sports venues, and other organizations responded. Take Clark University, one of this year’s Innovation Award winners – their composting pilot project discovered that up to 60 percent of dorm waste is compostable. Commercial-size compost bins are now on all floors of freshman dorms, as well as in the dining hall.

Cupertino, CA’s story is also really inspiring.  It negotiated a five-year franchise agreement with its waste hauler to achieve a 75 percent waste diversion rate, meaning this waste wouldn’t end up in landfills or incinerators.  The city identified higher rates of food waste collection and composting as the means to achieving this goal, and is making great progress.  I am so inspired by the innovative actions taken by not just these two organizations, but all the winners of the Food Recovery Challenge awards. Read about the other wonderful winners on our website.

I’m proud to be part of a team that cares about the issue of wasted food and pleased that the team recognized nine organizations’ successful accomplishments.

About the author: Laurie Solomon started with EPA in 1987 and currently works in the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. Each Earth Day, Laurie dons the Garbage Gremlin costume to interact with elementary school children at her son’s former elementary school.

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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Gleaning Gourds

By Jim Callier

Last month I shared with you about noteworthy efforts to feed the poor here in Kansas City by “gleaning.”  I wanted to follow up by sharing the conclusion to this story and the positive impact this experience had on me, the community, and the environment.

Food is Too Good To Waste!

One of the reasons for my enthusiasm about the gleaning effort is that EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, places feeding hungry people near the top in terms of preferred alternatives to wasting.  Considering higher uses of food is important because in addition to the social and economic benefits of not wasting food, alternatives to landfilling are important for the planet.

Food waste, especially when disposed of in a landfill, is a significant contributor of greenhouse gases through the production and release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas and contributor to climate change.  In the US, a significant amount of food waste is disposed of in landfills every day – more than 34.5 million tons in 2011.  This is enough food waste to fill the Rose Bowl each day!  What’s more, many in the US do not have enough to eat.  Hunger is a serious problem in the US – with 1 in 5 children going to bed hungry.

The gleaning effort organized by SoSA West that took place in Kansas City this past November was one of many notable efforts to take food that otherwise would be wasted and get it to those in need. I was honored to be a part of this effort and am glad to be able to share my account.

Getting Squash to Those in Need

A couple of days following the gleaning event, squash1I met up with volunteers to make deliveries of gleaned squash to pantries and shelters.  I met Scott, a volunteer for Operation Breakthrough who would drive the truck and Jesse, another volunteer who would sack and deliver the squash.  Scott and Jesse were interested in my involvement in the project so I explained EPA’s food recovery program and the importance of food recovery to the economy and environment.  When I mentioned feeding people as a beneficial alternative to wasting and our partnership with USDA, they were enthusiastic and better understood the bigger picture of food waste in the US.

We began our journey for the day with an initial list of 6-7 stops and loaded with 4 full skid boxes — over 4000 pounds of squash, and numerous bushel-sized sacks to fill.   At every stop, we met incredible people.  Some were chefs that would prepare the squash and some were people in need.  Everyone we met was incredibly appreciative, but I felt the most privileged, having the opportunity to be part of the effort.

squash22One of the stops that had a particular impact on me was a men’s shelter.  While we were there a number of men came over to our truck to help unload a couple hundred pounds of squash.  Although the honor was ours, they were truly grateful.  As we prepared to leave the shelter, a couple of men who were in a van leaving for an errand backed up, stopped, rolled the window down, and called us over to once again express appreciation.  This totally unexpected, additional act of gratitude really hit home for me on the value of the effort made by all of the organizations and volunteers.

As I walked back to the delivery truck, I noticed a black POW MIA flag.   Subsequently, I did a little research and learned that this organization’s mission includes helping veterans and houses close to 200 veterans.  This really made a mark on me because Veterans and active duty service personnel have a special meaning for me.  One reason is that my father and eldest brother were veterans; my father served as a Navy pilot in the Pacific theater during World War II and my brother served in the Army during the Vietnam era.  Also, I have met numerous veterans and service members throughout my work at EPA.  While working in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands assessing and cleaning up WWII sites, I met current and former Navy Explosive Ordnance Detachment Officers, also known as “bomb techs.”  squash3

Meeting these appreciative vets and others on our journey that day was a fantastic experience.  In all, we made about 13 stops and delivered most of the squash that day.   I felt uplifted to meet the generous volunteers and grateful recipients.  It is encouraging to know that efforts like this are going on and that what we do at EPA through the Food Recovery Challenge is necessary and important.  As I witnessed by participating in this gleaning effort, the work of many at food waste reduction is turning what would have been left behind as waste into an opportunity to make lives a little better.

Jim Callier is Chief of the Resource Conservation and Pollution Prevention Section at EPA in Kansas City and has thirty years of experience working at EPA, primarily in Region 7. Jim has both working and management experience in many of EPA’s programs including hazardous and solid waste, brownfields, and pollution prevention. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri at Rolla with a B.S. Degree in Geological Engineering and is a Registered Professional Geologist in the State of Missouri.

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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Thanksgiving Leftovers – Squash Harvest Part 2

By Jim Callier

 

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Welcome back from Thanksgiving week.  And what better way to welcome you back then with some leftovers, perhaps more accurately a second helping.  Before the Holiday I shared with you a blog entry about efforts here in Kansas City at “gleaning.”    Here in Kansas City, the Society of St. Andrews – West, or SoSA-West, was organizing a “gleaning” event to donate all of the food to pantries, shelters and other organizations that feed people.  Gleaning, is where a farmer opens up his fields after the harvest to individuals and organizations to gather food that remains in the field for use, leftovers if you will.   We contacted SoSA  and they agreed to join forces by signing on to EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Program.

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The plan was for the actual gleaning to begin on Sunday, November 3rd and continue for four days, weather permitting.  This was great timing as November 15th was America Recycles Day, our annual opportunity to raise national awareness of the importance of recycling and a great way to highlight gleaning.  After all, isn’t putting food to a better use than tossing it in a landfill or leaving it in a field an excellent way to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle?  With the date settled, I contacted the USDA to join in the effort.   This past June, EPA and USDA had also joined forces to conquer the issue of wasted food through the US Food Waste Challenge.   USDA offered to assist with publicizing this effort as an example of a community activity that promotes food recovery and reduce food waste while feeding the hungry.

In the week leading up to the 3rd, numerous local organizations donated pallets, heavy-duty packing containers, heavy equipment, equipment operators, and volunteers to fill logistical needs.  All of these organizations pulled together to ensure success of an activity that is good for the community (reduces hunger and feeds people), good for the economy (recognizes the value of the crops and investment a farmer has made) and good for the environment (reduces waste and greenhouse gas production from decaying waste).

As the weekend began, the weather forecast did not look good for gleaning and SoSA – West made the call to glean only on Sunday the 3rd.  However, on Sunday, over 1,000 volunteers arrived to help glean, filling the numerous large corrugated containers lining the roads at the farm.   The volunteers collected an estimated 250,000 lbs in only one day of gleaning!  The next day, more volunteers and organizations loaded the containers of produce and bushel sacks into trucks ready to deliver.  Good thing because the rain came Tuesday as forecasted!  Stay tuned for more, and to find out what happens next on our gleaning journey!

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Jim Callier is Chief of the Resource Conservation and Pollution Prevention Section at EPA in Kansas City and has thirty years of experience working at EPA, primarily in Region 7.  Jim has both working and management experience in many of EPA’s programs including hazardous and solid waste, brownfields, and pollution prevention.  He is a graduate of the University of Missouri at Rolla with a B.S. Degree in Geological Engineering and is a Registered Professional Geologist in the State of Missouri.

 

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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Fall Classic 2013 – Baseball and Squash

By Jim Callier

A few Mondays ago, I fired up my computer to check email and plan my work for the week. It had been a good weekend. I watched the World Series games between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox. Each team took one game. We know how the series ended, but in my mind both teams are champions and winners on and off the field. Both teams recover food following games for donation to hunger relief organizations or composting as part of their commitment to EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge. Numerous other sports teams, have also established other programs and activities that benefit the environment and focus on sustainability. Earlier in the year I got a chance to visit with the Cardinals and see firsthand how they are working to keep food waste out of landfills.

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Hosei Maruyama, St. Louis Cardinals stadium management, explains recycling effort at Busch Stadium to Jim Callier

With wasted food on my mind, I read an email from one of my staff members, Marcus, about a charity event he attended on his own time outside of work. He explained that a local not-for-profit, the Society of St. Andrews – West, or SoSA-West, was organizing a “gleaning” event for next week and plans to donate all of the food to pantries, shelters and other organizations that feed people. Gleaning, is where a farmer opens up his fields after the harvest to individuals and organizations to gather food that remains in the field for use. Gleaning can also occur at Farmer’s Markets, grocers, and other places that have surplus food.

In this case, SoSA – West received permission from a local farmer to glean his field, and recruited over 1000 volunteers to glean. The goal was to collect 1 Million pounds of food for charities, weather permitting. The product in the field is over ten different varieties of squash, including acorn, butternut, cushaw, buttercup, turban hubbard, delicate, spaghetti, banana, cheese pumpkin, kobacha and pumpkin and more.

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A variety of squash collected by SoSA – West

Hearing this , I clearly see the connection to our National Sustainable Materials Management Program and the Food Recovery Challenge (FRC). How can I use this information to raise awareness about the world-wide issue of food to good to waste, and encourage others to join EPA, USDA, and others in the FRC?
I’ll let you know what steps we took in next blog in this series. Please come back to see what’s next!

Jim Callier is Chief of the Resource Conservation and Pollution Prevention Section at EPA in Kansas City and has thirty years of experience working at EPA, primarily in Region 7. Jim has both working and management experience in many of EPA’s programs including hazardous and solid waste, brownfields, and pollution prevention. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri at Rolla with a B.S. Degree in Geological Engineering and is a Registered Professional Geologist in the State of Missouri.

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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Hunger in My Neighborhood

By Mike Frankel

I occasionally work from home on Fridays, and as a treat, I pick up a great homemade meatball sandwich from a spot not far from my home in South Philly. The route takes me alongside the I-95 overpass. For months, I saw lines of people stretching for several blocks under the overpass. It didn’t matter the weather – rain or shine, hot or cold – there was a line, and I couldn’t figure out what everyone was waiting for. Perhaps a casino bus to Atlantic City?

One cold, dreary Friday, I took a late lunch – and there they were, in line as always: all ages, all
races, all sizes. But for the first time, the line was moving. I pulled up to the curb, eager to finally see what was so important that people had been lining up for months. Then I saw the truck. Its sign read “PHILABUNDANCE” – our area’s major hunger-relief organization. They weren’t waiting for a casino
jaunt. They were waiting for food!

I was shocked and felt somewhat guilty sitting in my warm, dry car with my $10 lunch. How could
this be happening in my diverse middle/working-class neighborhood? Leaving the truck with a bag of food was a familiar face. In that moment, I realized hunger isn’t something that happens elsewhere – my neighbors were hungry.

Shortly after that experience, EPA started working on a new program called the Food Recovery Challenge. I signed on immediately. You may be wondering what EPA has to do with food. Turns out food comprises 21% of municipal waste sent to landfills, more than paper and plastic. That’s not just a hunger problem; unlike other kinds of waste, food decomposes rapidly and becomes a significant source of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas which contributes to climate change. Yet every day, we waste enough food to fill the Rose Bowl Stadium. In 2011, that added up to 36 million tons of food, nearly all of which was sent to landfills or incinerators.

The sad thing is that most of this food is still wholesome and nutritious. Yet one in six Americans are food-insecure: unsure of where their next meal might come from. Diverting even a small portion of the food wasted could potentially feed millions of our neighbors. EPA is working with organizations to buy smarter and divert good food away from landfills to groups like PHILABUNDANCE. And for food unsuitable for feeding families, we’re encouraging organizations to send it to places that compost it to create nutrient-rich natural fertilizer. After all, that will create soil for growing healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables that help feed us. Now that’s a true model of sustainability!

For more information on Food Recovery and what you can do.

About the author: Mike Frankel is a communications coordinator in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office. He is part of an agency-wide group promoting food recovery and sustainability.

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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Reducing Food Waste, Saving Money, Protecting the Environment

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By Pete Pearson

I’m Pete Pearson and I’m the Director of Sustainability for SUPERVALU, a national grocery retail and pharmacy company. I’m responsible for developing and implementing the sustainability strategy for all ten SUPERVALU chains. I recently recorded a podcast with Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. We discussed the important issues of wasted food, and what SUPERVALU and EPA are doing to reduce food waste, save money and protect the environment, and our participation in EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge.

In 2010 and 2011, for the first time in the company’s history, SUPERVALU’s recycling income was greater than its landfill expenses.  Our stores across the country are participating in food bank donation programs, giving millions of meals to hungry people; food that would have otherwise gone to waste.  Our stores are looking for ways to divert food waste and organic material to secondary uses, including compost facilities.  To date, over half of the SUPERVALU network of stores is composting and/or diverting organic material away from landfills.
I am working hard to encourage our stores to “know their garbage” and recognize the valuable commodities in the waste stream. Through our programs, we’ve found that with operational changes such as asking departments to source separate, 90 percent or more of the “waste” from a typical grocery store can be reused, recycled or used to feed people in need.  What initially starts as a behavior change quickly becomes the “new normal.” Our stores can’t imagine going backwards to the old days of throwing everything in a compactor.
By participating in EPA programs like the Food Recovery Challenge, our business is improving the measurement and transparency of critical data. This partnership also spawns a much needed culture where the private sector and government can work together to solve issues. Building relationships is paramount, since business and government are not going to solve our country’s problems alone.
Changing what we throw away not only reduces our expenses, but it changes our attitude towards waste in general; a new attitude that can also be applied to the products and services we provide. We are working with produce suppliers to package products in reusable/recyclable containers instead of unrecyclable material. SUPERVALU believes that what we waste defines what we value. We are committed to achieving zero waste and placing value on people, planet, and profit.

About the author: Pete Pearson is the Director of Sustainability for SUPERVALU which is an EPA Food Recovery Challenge participant. He is responsible for the sustainability strategy and execution for all 10 SUPERVALU grocery chains, Albertsons, Cub Foods, Hornbachers, Shop n’Save, Jewel-Osco, Save-a-Lot, Shaw’s, ACME, Shoppers, and Farm Fresh. Pete’s interests include developing closed-loop waste cycles (Zero-Waste) and creating an effective logistics program through which grocery stores can more efficiently source fresh food from local farmers.

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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