Chances are you’ve seen lists of ways to fight food waste before. The list below, though, is based on hard data from a committee dedicated to ending food waste.
ReFED is a committee that’s working to combat food waste on every front. They’ve looked at food waste from all angles and identified 27 ways that individuals, governments and businesses can fight food waste. When they talk about food waste, they’re talking about more than just the food itself. They also look at packaging waste and water waste associated with excess food.
The group is made up of more than 30 businesses, nonprofits and leaders. In 2015, they conducted an economic study on food waste, which they called the Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste. Their mission is to fight food waste on a large scale by showing how it can financially benefit companies while doing good for people and the planet.
I’m sure you’re sick of hearing that we throw away four billion tons of food per year. When you look at food waste by the numbers, it can feel like an insurmountable problem. ReFED’s mission is to “fill the gap between awareness and action” by looking at our food system as a whole. These are the 27 ways that we need to attack our food waste problem.
1. Consumer Education Campaigns – The more consumers—like you and I—know about food waste, the more we can do to waste less.
2. Standardized Date Labeling - One UK study found that extending “Sell By” dates by just one daywould keep 50 million pounds of food out of landfills.
3. Packaging Adjustments - Companies need to choose packaging to minimize packaging waste and encourage consumers to eat the food before it goes bad.
4. Donation Matching Software – There is software out there already that connects excess food with people who need it. These apps help nonprofits, like food banks, recover edible excess food.
5. Standardized Donation Regulation – Local food safety regulations often stop nonprofits from recovering food waste. Standardizing these laws would make it a lot easier for these groups to do what they set out to do.
6. Value-Added Processing – This is all about turning donated food into something appealing. Ugly fruit can be turned into jam, for example. Ugly veggies are still appealing in a soup or stew.
7. Donation Liability Education - Grocery stores and restaurants often don’t donate excess food because they worry about getting sued. An education program could recover 95 million meals per year.
8. Donation Storage and Handling – Donated food needs to be stored properly, or it does spoil. Organizations like food banks and food hubs need more refrigeration and freezer space to handle the volume of excess food.
9. Spoilage Prevention Packaging – High tech packaging can extend food’s shelf life. For example,ethylene-absorbing pads help fruit stay fresh longer. They absorb ethylene, a gas that ripens the fruit.
10. Donation Transportation – Groups recovering food waste need better ways to get the food to people who need it, both in their communities and further away.
11. Waste Tracking and Analytics – One of the best ways to fight food waste is to keep up with where it’s happening. Analytics would help businesses, like grocery stores and restaurants, see where they’re wasting food, so they can address problems on the fly.
12. Trayless Dining – It turns out that cafeteria trays encourage people to take more food than they can eat. Ditching the trays means less over-serving and, therefore, less wasted food.
13. Smaller Plates – This is another step that both businesses and consumers can take. A smaller plate helps you waste less in the same way that it helps you eat less: you tend to load on a more reasonable amount of food.
14. Manufacturing Line Optimization – A lot of food waste is generated at the factory level. Making these processes more efficient would mean less spoilage on the factory floor.
15. Cold Chain Management – This is about keeping cold food cold by making fewer stops between farm and plate.
16. Donation Tax Incentives – This is like what Italy is trying to do with their new food waste law. Instead of punishing businesses who waste food, they will be giving big tax breaks to businesses who donate. They treat excess food like the valuable gift that it is.
17. Improved Inventory Management – Tracking products by remaining shelf life would enable stores to feature food that’s closer to its sell by date.
18. Produce Specifications – Grocers and farmers often don’t sell “ugly” produce. New specifications would get more edible produce on the shelf, even if that produce isn’t picture perfect.
19. Secondary Resellers – This is also not a totally new concept. There are food waste grocery stores now, but this concept is definitely one worth expanding on.
20. Home Composting – If you’re new to composting at home, it might seem overwhelming. Here are some great tips to help you get started.
21. Commercial Greywater – Companies can save a lot of money and reduce wasted water by using greywater in their sewage systems.
22. Centralized Anaerobic Digestion - Inedible food waste can actually be used to generate clean energy!
23. Centralized Composting – Like I mentioned in #20, composting at home can be overwhelming. Municipal composting, like they have in San Francisco makes it easy. Your trash goes in one bin, recyclables in another and food waste in a third bin. Some areas also have private centralized composting—companies that pick up or accept food and farm waste for composting.
24. Water Resources Recover Facility with Anaerobic Digestion - Think of this as a pipeline—sometimes a literal one—that takes food waste to anaerobic digestion facilities (see #22).
25. Animal Feed – Heat-treated food waste can be used as animal feed. You probably already know that animal agriculture is terribly inefficient.
26. Community Composting – This is basically centralized composting, but for a smaller area. It works best in urban areas, where populations are dense.
27. In-Vessel Composting – Smaller businesses can compost quickly on-site with special equipment and save on trash fees while generating dirt to use in their own landscaping.