food waste

Cobbler Cure – Doctor’s Orders

By Thomas O’Donnell It might seem odd to get excited over apple or strawberry cobbler, but this batch touched a special chord. I work in EPA’s Philadelphia office on sustainability and food waste issues. I’ve been trying to find new ways to avoid throwing good food into landfills as part of the agency’s Food Recovery Challenge. The National Resources Defense Council reported that fruits and vegetables make up the largest type of food going to waste from retail stores, 22 percent, in fact. That could easily be more than 14 million pounds of fresh fruit in Philadelphia alone.

Picture of two chefs working in the kitchen

I brought one of the challenge participants, the produce team from Brown’s Parkside Shop-Rite supermarket in Philadelphia, together with Drexel University’s Culinary School. The school’s culinary director and a student were anxious to help and try something new. The school’s mantra in situations where food is heading out the back door is to transform it into healthy, delicious meals. After we got to the store and talked about food recovery options, the folks from Shop-Rite took us to the produce section where they pulled some fruit that had minor imperfections that shoppers were not likely to purchase. A couple of cartons of strawberries and apples went back to the culinary school where the students worked on the challenge of turning what might have been trash into treasure. The next morning, I had six recipes in my email inbox, with the pictures of the cobbler you see included in this blog. (The Shop-Rite folks were the lucky ones who got to enjoy this special treat.)

Picture of a cobbler in a pan.

It’s just cobbler, right? True, but Drexel and Shop-Rite launched a successful experiment in food research that took slightly bruised or not perfectly shaped fruit that was destined for a compost pile, or a trash compactor and transformed it into delicious cobblers. They also created half-a-dozen recipes for things like applesauce and jam. How many times could this be done by someone who wants to make fresh meals for local food pantries or shelters? Could this be a new opportunity for a local business? The experiment has social and environmental benefits – great food for those in need and less food-waste sent to landfills where it becomes methane, a powerful greenhouse gas linked to climate change. Fruits and vegetables are among the most difficult foods to repurpose to feeding needy people – a goal near the top of EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy. This small experiment showed how to create delicious alternatives to disposal, and it was quick and fun. Being part of this little experiment was a blast. And, be assured that we’re going to do more research. Stay tuned!

Cooked cobbler on a plate.

About the author: Thomas O’Donnell (NAHE) is a Sustainability Coordinator with the Mid-Atlantic Region of the USEPA specializing in the Food Recovery Challenge Program. He received a PhD in environmental sciences from the University of Virginia. Tom was one of the originators of the Urban Model for Surplus Food recovery, which is piloting in west Philadelphia. He also teaches at Philadelphia University while developing open, online courses on food systems 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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Earth Month Tip: Compost

Composting your food and yard waste reduces the amount of garbage you send to landfills and reduces carbon pollution. Using food and kitchen scraps, yard trimmings, and other organic waste to create a compost pile can also help increase soil water retention, decrease erosion, and replace chemical fertilizers.

Learn more about composting at home: http://www2.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home

More tips: http://www.epa.gov/earthday/actonclimate/

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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Earth Month Tip: Reduce food waste

Thirteen percent of carbon pollution emissions in the United States are associated with the growing, manufacturing, transporting, and disposing of food. More food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in municipal solid waste. In 2012 alone, more than 36 million tons of food waste was generated, with only five percent diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting. Reducing the amount of food wasted has significant economic, social & environmental benefits – including the reduction of carbon pollution.

Reducing food waste reduces methane and other greenhouse gas emissions and improves sanitation, public safety, and overall health. By reducing the amount of food we waste, we can reduce carbon pollution and improve quality of life for Americans.

Learn more: http://www2.epa.gov/recycle/reducing-wasted-food-basics

More tips: http://www.epa.gov/earthday/actonclimate/

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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Sharing is Sustainable – Expanding the Sharing Economy

Sharing—with your partner, parents, children, friends, community, or even a total stranger—is a big part of what life is all about.

My neighbor Henry has nearly every power tool that a grown man could want, and he generously shares them with me and others on our block. Which means we don’t need to buy tools and let them sit idle in our garages.  By connecting with people, we are entering an era in which everything from a bicycle to a car to a power tool can be fully utilized by a network rather than just one owner. And that’s good news for our environment and our economy.

Bicycle-and car-sharing can happen informally between family and friends, but collaborative websites and organized programs now help us do the sharing. Last year, Bay Area Bike Share put 700 bicycles into curbside stations in five cities. The 350 bikes within San Francisco—half the fleet—are used 900 to 1,000 times per day.  That translates into a significant decrease in local auto traffic and tailpipe emissions. EPA has been working with the City of Honolulu to promote bike sharing and reduce congestion.

Our cars sit idle 90% of the time, so sharing them can have a huge impact. For example, when miles driven in the U.S. dropped just 3% in 2008, road congestion declined 30%. Every shared ride is a win for our environment and our health, because less traffic means less stress. More

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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Is Your Septic System Ready for the Big Game?

By Maureen Tooke

I come from a large family and get-togethers can be stressful, even for our septic system. My family is just one of the nearly one-quarter of U.S. households that should follow a few simple steps to avoid problems with their systems during family gatherings and parties, like many that will happen for Sunday’s big football game.

While we’re all familiar with how the system works and are careful to maintain it, all that extra flushing and water use during parties can really stress the system, causing it to fail.
 
I remember several things in particular my mom would do around the house, in addition to having it inspected and pumped, which were good daily practices to ensure that our system worked. 

Kitchens back in the day didn’t have garbage disposals, so she would put food waste in a little bag and throw it in the trash.  She would also put the grease from the Sunday morning bacon in a tin can for it to harden and then throw it away.  Turns out that it was a good thing we didn’t have a disposal, as EPA recommends you not use one if you have a septic system.  All that extra food waste and cooking grease clogs the system. There’s nothing worse than your septic system backing up!

For the bathroom, she’d buy thin toilet paper and we’d never flush anything other than what we were supposed to, though I’m sure one of my brothers’ little green army guys might have slipped in when no one was looking.  My dad would stay on us about taking short showers and not running the faucet while we brushed.  These are good water conservation practices, regardless.

Like my mom, EPA’s SepticSmart program has easy to remember tips about keeping your system properly maintained during the big game and all year long:

  • Get your septic system inspected by a professional at least every three years and pumped every three to five years.
  • Don’t flush anything besides human waste and toilet paper.
  • Never pour cooking oil or grease down the drain.
  • Never park or drive on your septic drainfield.
  • Conserve water around the home as much as possible since all of the water a household sends down its pipes winds up in its septic system.

Proper system care and maintenance are vital to protecting public health, water resources and your property value.

About the author: Maureen Tooke is an Environmental Protection Specialist who works in the Office of Wastewater Management in EPA’s Region 10 Idaho Operations Office in Boise. She lives in the North End with her fiancé and dog.

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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Making a Green City Even Greener

By Jeff Maurer

Polystyrene Food Container

Polystyrene Food Container

New Yorkers don’t like being second-best; whether its sports, food, or the arts, we strive to lead, not follow. One of the newer facets of New York’s character is a desire to be a leader in environmentalism and sustainability. This is huge; making the big apple a green apple will provide a model for other cities to follow. Recently, Mayor Bloomberg took two important steps in that direction by banning polystyrene foam (commonly called Styrofoam) containers and requiring the city’s largest food waste generators to separate their food waste.

When it comes to being bad for the environment, polystyrene foam is a repeat offender.  Polystyrene foam used to be regularly manufactured using ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, and even today it is impossible to confirm that all polystyrene foam is “ozone safe.” Styrene, the basic building block of polystyrene, is classified as a possible carcinogen by EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The manufacture of polystyrene requires large amounts of petroleum and chemicals. When polystyrene foam goes to a landfill, it stays there: it can take more than a million years for a polystyrene product to decompose.

Polystyrene foam is about as bad for the environment as a product can get; that’s why Mayor Bloomberg’s ban is a welcome development. Better alternatives are available; companies including Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, Wendy’s, McDonalds, Red Lobster, and Arby’s have already stopped using polystyrene foam. The City Council passed the ban unanimously. This is a change whose time has come.

Another important step towards becoming a more equitable and sustainable city came in Mayor Bloomberg’s requirement that the city’s largest food waste generators separate their food waste. This will result in more food being composted or given to the needy; less will go to landfills. We should be taking every measure to avoid wasting food, especially when more than 14 percent of New Yorkers – almost 3 million people – don’t have enough to eat. When food goes to a landfill it rots and becomes a significant source of methane, a greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. This measure will encourage New York’s largest producers of food to keep food on our tables and out of landfills.

New York has a lot of competition for the title of “greenest city;” nearby, cities including New Paltz and Newark are putting ambitious programs in place to make their cities greener. I’m glad to see Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council take these steps to bolster New York’s reputation as a leader in environmental protection and sustainability.

About the Author: Jeff is a speechwriter and public affairs specialist. He started in EPA’s Washington, DC office in 2005 and moved to EPA’s Region 2 office in New York in 2011. Before joining EPA, Jeff served in the Peace Corps in Morocco. He is an avid soccer fan and part-time standup comedian, and can periodically be found performing at clubs around New York.

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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Auraria Campus Celebrates America Recycles Day

By Virginia Till

My school, the University of Colorado Denver, is part of the Auraria Higher Education Center. At Auraria, we’re not afraid to get our hands dirty. In fact, we enjoy it. As part of our participation in the EPA-led Food Recovery Challenge, and in celebration of America Recycles Day, we did the first-ever waste audit of the Tivoli Student Union.
 

Americans tossed out more than 36 million tons of food in 2011, and nearly all of it ended up in landfills or incinerators. The Food Recovery Challenge asks participants to reduce as much of their food waste as possible – saving money, helping communities, and protecting the environment.
 

With EPA-supplied bench scales, we weighed 26 bags of compost, recycle, and landfill materials gathered from the Tivoli’s 3-bin collection stations. This was then resorted to determine potential for improvement.

By looking at how we were recycling, we learned that we’d do a lot better by sorting properly. Knowing this will help Auraria determine strategies for improving recyling in the Tivoli Student Union and reduce the amount of waste sent to local landfills. It was fun getting our hands dirty and finding out how the campus can improve its waste management. How much of your food and money are you literally throwing away?

For more information:
http://www.epa.gov/smm/foodrecovery/
http://americarecyclesday.org/

About the author: Virginia Till is a graduate student at the University of Colorado Denver, pursuing a master’s in integrated sciences. She studies and works on sustainable building operations and is a Recycling Specialist for EPA Region 8 in Denver.

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

 

helping

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.

bobcat

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!

boxes

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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Green Your Holidays with Our Pinterest Tips Board

By Ellie Kanipe

The holiday season is upon us and to help you be green through the hustle and bustle of the season, we’ve launched a Greening Your Holidays Pinterest board.  See tips on how to reduce holiday food and paper waste, and how to recycle electronic gadgets.  The board also has cool winter-inspired DIY projects that you and your whole family can enjoy together. You’ll find inspiring green ideas for this holiday season with pins like Gift Wrapping Gone Green; Reuse and Be Crafty – Holiday Cards get a Fresh Look; O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, How Can I Make You More Green; and Reduce Food Waste with a Splash.

Help us reduce our numbers: Americans threw away 250 million tons of trash in 2011, and 134 million tons of that ended up in landfills and incinerators. We can all make a difference this holiday season by reducing our waste, so check out our Greening Your Holidays Pinterest board.

About the author:  Ellie Kanipe works in EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery on communications. She loves using Pinterest to find cool DIY green projects.

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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