We have a food waste crisis

By Mary McIntyre

Waste Solutions rescues healthy edible food

Food insecurity, where a person is without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food, affects about 800 million people globally. More than 50 million Americans, including one in five children younger than five years old, are food insecure.

Contrast this with the fact that approximately 40% of the U.S. food supply is thrown away every year. The facts are hard to swallow, but true: Nearly a third of food raised or prepared never even makes it from our farms or factories to our tables. This equates to $165 billion worth of food wasted—every single year. In Utah, about 600,000 tons of food are wasted every year. And 400,000 Utahns go hungry every day.

Most food waste—approximately 63 million tons of waste annually, nationally—gets landfilled. Methane, a greenhouse gas that is 23 times more harmful than carbon dioxide emissions, gets released as the food waste decomposes in the landfills.

If global food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter after the United States and China. Food waste is responsible for roughly eight percent of global emissions. It’s the number one item filling our landfill. Reducing food waste is the third best solution to reverse climate change.

The good news is government agencies, NGOs and nonprofits are addressing our food waste crisis at all levels. Organizations like Wasteless Solutions are working hard to tackle these problems of food insecurity and food waste here in Utah.

Dana Williamson, Executive Director, launched Wasteless Solutions, a 501c3 nonprofit, in February 2018 to rescue healthy, edible food before it gets thrown away, and then deliver it to those in need. “My passions are food, education and the environment and as I started to learn more, I wanted to be part of the solution,” says Williamson. As she describes it, she’s put together an “Uber for food waste.”

What might sound like a complicated effort at coordinating donors and receivers is done easily through the Food Rescue US app. Food Rescue US is a national organization addressing food insecurity across our nation. As a partner and affiliate organization, Wasteless Solutions can easily facilitate connections throughout the state. Organizations and volunteers use the app to register their availability or need. A food donor donates unused food at pre-determined times and it is distributed to nonprofits registered on the app as food receivers.

Key to this partnership is the volunteer piece—the food rescuer—who picks up food from various donors and transports the food to the receiving agency. After registering, these volunteers are able to use the app to choose a time—for example, on their lunch hour, after work, on a weekend—to arrange a pickup and delivery time. Donor organizations include  Bon Appetit Management Company (and their food service clients Westminster College, Overstock.Com, Mountain American Credit Union, and others), the Utah Co Op, Joe Granato’s Fruit & Produce, Quality Produce, Jewish Family Service, the University of Utah cafeteria, the American Preparatory Academy, Muir Copper Canyon Farms, Lux Catering and others.

The types of food being donated include fresh meats, chicken, seafood, dairy, fresh produce, and a lot of pre-packaged snacks like yogurts, fruit and pre-cut veggies—food items that cannot typically be donated through large food pantries because they are perishable.

Receiving nonprofit organizations include: the Boys and Girls Club, Jewish Family Service food pantry, the YWCA, The Other Side Academy, the food pantries at East High School and Highland High School, Recovery Home, Life Start Village, Salt Lake City Rescue Mission and two senior centers in SLC.

Since February 2018, Wasteless Solutions has rescued 66,000 pounds of food, from 26 donors, equating to 55,000 meals. These numbers are just a drop in the bucket of potential change, since the numbers equate to about one city block filled with restaurants. Imagine the impact if this model were the norm instead of the exception.

There are simple steps we can all take to reduce our food waste. In honor of Earth Day on April 22, commit to making a difference by doing any/all of the following:

  1. Check what’s in your fridge before you shop so you don’t duplicate items.
  2. Make a list before going to the store and stick to the list.
  3. Reorganize your refrigerator and make a shelf for “eat me first” items.
  4. Understand what food dates mean. A helpful article clarifying food labeling: wb.md/2moXckE
  5. Eat ugly vegetables, too.
  6. Freeze food if you’re not going to eat it right away.
  7. Eat leftovers.
  8. Store your food properly so that it doesn’t spoil prematurely.
  9. Carry a reusable to-go container for leftovers when dining out or ask for smaller portions.
  10. Be a Food Rescuer! Download the Food Waste US app and sign-up.
  11. Keep a food waste diary to log what you’re eating and throwing out.
  12. Take the Drawdown EcoChallenge, running April 3-24. 

We can take many small steps that will make a difference. Learn more about other organizations in Utah addressing food insecurity and food waste:

Backyard GardenShare

Food Recovery Network—USU and University of Utah

Green Urban Lunchbox

Jewish Family Service

SLC Green Fruit Share

Slow Food Utah

Utah Food Bank

Wasatch Community Gardens

Wasatch Resource Recovery

Mary McIntyre is the former executive director of the Utah Recycling Alliance, a local nonprofit focused on programs that encourage reuse, recycling and resource conservation.                         MaryMc@CatalystMagazine.net

This article was originally published on March 31, 2019.