By Mathy Stanislaus
After returning from our first Food Recovery Summit in Charleston, South Carolina where we announced the 2015 Food Recovery Challenge winners, I found myself thinking about food, and not just the wonderful Charleston restaurants. In 2013, an estimated 35 million tons of food went to landfills and incinerators, accounting for 21% of the American waste stream.
Excessive food waste results in:
- Social Costs: 48 million Americans, of which roughly 16 million are children, live in homes without enough food. We need to redirect wholesome, nutritious food that otherwise is wasted to families in need.
- Economic Costs: at the retail and consumer levels food loss and waste is estimated at $161 billion dollars in the U.S.
- Environmental Costs: Organic material in landfills decomposes and generates methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas. This disposed food is a main contributor to the roughly 18% of total U.S. methane emissions that come from landfills – contributing directly to climate change.
EPA and USDA announced an ambitious 2030 U.S. domestic goal to cut in half food loss and waste by 2030. By Earth Day 2016, we will announce a food loss & waste plan of action to serve as a roadmap for tackling wasted food and to meet the 2030 goal.
Many local communities are leading the way with novel, game-changing ways to reduce waste while building communities. For example, MB Financial Park in Rosemont, Illinois, one of the 2015 Food Recovery Challenge Winners, developed the “Green for a Reason” program, in which 1,000 employees and 1.6 million visitors recovered more than 150 tons of organic materials.
Other examples of best practices identified at the Food Recovery Summit include: businesses and other organizations donating excess wholesome food to food banks, shelters and soup kitchens; creative re-use of trimmings by a university dining staff; composting in urban settings; and using wasted food to produce electricity. A complete list of the 2015 awardees is at http://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/food-recovery-challenge-results-and-award-winners#2015awards.
It will take every level of government, non-profits, businesses, universities and, most importantly, individuals to make real change in how we view and value food. Making this shift happen relies on changes in all of our behaviors.
Here at EPA, we are working to identify opportunities for achieving responsible and sustainable management of America’s food resources and find the barriers that must be tackled to make progress. We want to partner with states, communities, businesses, NGOs, and charities to help use food in a socially, environmentally, and economically beneficial manner. I believe we can get there and build and energize communities at the same time.