By Danielle Walczak, Farm & Sea to Campus Communications Intern

Posted March 31, 2016

News

6 Examples of Combating Food Waste

6 Examples of Combating Food Waste

Reducing Food Waste is becoming a global priority, college campuses are joining the charge

Pictured: Photo of "ugly" beefstake tomato courtesy of Prizmatic (Flickr). 

In 2014, when France’s third-largest supermarket, Intermarche, launched their “inglorious fruits and vegetables” campaign, farm-seconds became popular overnight. Produce that didn’t match the tight standards applied to supermarket vegetables started selling out. Alongside a marketing campaign, Intermarche offered “ugly” fruits and vegetables, which farmers usually threw away, for a 30 percent discount. The idea caught on – in the first two days of the program, an average of 1.2 tons of ugly produce was sold per Intermarche store.

The year 2014 was the European Union’s “Year Against Food Waste.” Two year’s later, supermarkets stateside are catching on. Whole Foods announced a deal with Imperfect Produce at the beginning of March 2016, which will test the sales of cosmetically unappealing fruits and vegetables in some Northern California stores starting in April, according to an NPR report [1]. The decision came after a petition calling on the natural supermarket chain to follow in Intermarche’s footsteps.   

Eliminating food waste in the U.S. is continuing to gain momentum. The cover story in this month’s issue of National Geographic [2] focuses on the issues surrounding food waste and the people who are working to eliminate it. In the article, Elizabeth Royte reports that one-third of the planet’s food goes to waste — where that waste could feed two billion people worldwide. At some U.S. schools, students dump 40 percent of their lunches each day, according to Royte.

Today the United States spends over $218 billion — 1.3 percent of GDP  — growing, processing, transporting, and disposing of food that is never eaten.”  - ReFED Report [3] (ReFED is a research collaborative with the goal of reducing food waste in the U.S. by 50 percent by 2030)

In New England, many colleges are leading the charge to fight food waste. Below, see how each part of the food system: farmers, students, distributors, politicians, and dining programs, are doing their part to help minimize food waste and increase local food procurement in the process.

#1: Unity College’s Compost to Local Farms

At Unity College compost from dining facilities is separated for composting with the help of the compost committee. Some of the college’s food waste is diverted from a landfill for pig food. The food goes to pigs on Unity’s sustainable agriculture program’s farm, with excess going to other local farms. Since August students have generated 4.0025 tons of pig food. Many other colleges in New England compost as well, diverting food waste to local farms, college gardens, and grounds.

#2: University of New Hampshire’s Take Less, Waste Less

Pictured: UNH Nutrition Students working on the "Take Less, Waste Less" campaign in Holloway Commons, the main dining facility at UNH. (Photo courtesy of Nutrition Wellness at UNH, Facebook)

Over two ounces of food pulp is generated per guest, per visit at the University of New Hampshire dining facilities. UNH Dining wanted students to be more aware of the waste they generated after their meals at the dining halls so they created the “Take Less, Waste Less” initiative which aims to reduce post-consumer waste for “the betterment of the environment.”

A lot of UNH dining guests create a lot of unconscious waste according to Rochelle L’Italien, UNH’s dietician. To start their “Take Less, Waste Less” program, UNH dining did a collection activity where dietetic interns asked students to scrape waste into buckets rather than leaving them on the conveyor trays, which is the usual course of action.

“It is an education in itself to see the barrels filling up,” L’Italien said.

The interns also saved plates of whole food, so others could have a visual of wasted whole foods. “The impact is strong; many did not know it was happening until they got to see for themselves,” L’Italien said. Research has shown programs like “Take Less, Waste Less” help influence students.

“Simply making university students aware of the topic of food waste may be useful in improving their behaviors and the sustainability of the foodservice facility,” according to a study published in Elsevier Inc. by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics [4], titled “Written messages improve edible food waste behaviors in a university dining facility.”

Additionally, UNH dining takes many efforts behind the scenes to control pre-consumer waste as well, with purchasing guidelines, inventory control and food production.

#3: Campuses Go Trayless

Today many college dining operations are going trayless. Going trayless reduces waste in the dining area and saves campuses money that could then go towards investing in local farms. In a 2008 Aramark study [5], of 186,000 meals at 25 universities and colleges, saw a 25-30 percent reduction in food waste per person during trayless days of dining.

Many colleges and universities in New England are trayless in some or all of their dining halls. Some trayless colleges and universities include: Boston College, Brown University, Colby College, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Middlebury College, St. Joseph's College, University of Connecticut, University of Maine, University of N.H., University of Rhode Island, University of Vermont, and Williams College.

In addition to reducing food waste, going trayless reduces energy use (use to heat water for cleaning), water use, and chemical use.

#4: Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s Food Recovery Act

In December, Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree introduced a bill aimed at tackling food waste in the country. HR4184 The Food Recovery Act has four main focus groups including schools and institutions. A portion of Pingree’s plan includes expanding tax deductions for farmers, retailers and restaurants that donate quality food to organizations helping people who are food insecure.

The act will also focus on reducing food waste in schools by encouraging schools to purchase farm seconds/“ugly” produce for a lower price, enhancing educational grant programs focusing on food waste and food recovery, reinforcing connections between schools and farms, giving both more resources to tackle food waste. Pingree’s bill was referred to the Committee on Agriculture upon being introduced and most recently was referred to the subcommittee on Health in mid-December 2015.

Pictured: Congresswoman Chellie Pingree held a press conference before introducing the Food Recovery Act in Congress, comprehensive legislation to reduce food waste in America while diverting more food to the people who need it. (Photo courtesy of Chellie Pingree).

#5: North Branch Farm’s Carrots

Maine’s winter this year has been inconsistent. With the warmest weather in the history of the state, farmers struggled to keep winter storage crops cool enough to last the season. When the carrots at North Branch Farm started to sprout, the Monroe, Maine-based farmers began looking for a market for their sprouting carrots as well as some misshapen ones. The farm made connections with Healthy Acadia, Northern Girl and Crown of Maine, hoping each group would be willing to purchase the carrots which would otherwise be wasted.

Of the 12,000 pounds of carrots that North Branch Farm didn’t want to waste, 10,000 pounds went to processing facilities at Northern Girl and Crown of Maine. Healthy Acadia, in conjunction with Good Shepherd Food Bank’s Mainers Feeding Mainers Program, was able to purchase 500 pounds to keep in their freezer and distribute to food pantries in increments while North Branch Farm donated the last 500 pounds.

“Food waste is an opportunity, it’s a hidden thing that’s been a burden rather than an opportunity. We want to make it a vehicle to cultivate relationships rather than making it be a burden [for farmers],”   -Hannah Semler, Gleaning Coordinator at Healthy Acadia

#6: Three River Farmer’s Alliance Farm Seconds

Carrot seconds are currently the most popular item at Three River Farmer’s Alliance, a local food distribution company serving New Hampshire’s Seacoast. They are guaranteed to sell out every week. At 70 cents a pound — versus the $1.50-$2.00 for cosmetically perfect carrots — restaurants in the area are rushing to get a 25 pound bag of carrots with slight imperfections (like a broken tip), before they sell out.

Institutions, with their enormous food purchasing and consumption, have an important role to play in elevating the awareness about this topic and taking thoughtful steps to both reduce their own food waste while also supporting the development of alternative supply chains for foods that might otherwise be wasted at the farm. The work that farmers, individual campuses, nonprofits, government, and other institutions and businesses are doing to reduce food waste and incorporate more farm seconds is helping build more momentum in the region for a more sustainable food system.   


Footnotes:

[1] Aubrey, Allison. "From Ugly To Hip: Misfit Fruits And Veggies Coming To Whole Foods." NPR. NPR, 7 Mar. 2016. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

[2] Royte, Elizabeth. "How 'Ugly' Fruits and Vegetables Can Help Solve World Hunger." How 'Ugly' Fruits and Vegetables Can Help Solve World Hunger. National Geographic, 01 Mar. 2016. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

[3] "ReFED | Rethink Food Waste." ReFED | Rethink Food Waste. ReFED, 2016. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

[4] Whitehair, K.j., and C.w. Shanklin. "Written Messages Improve Beliefs and Edible Food Waste Behaviors in a University Dining Facility." Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 112.9 (2012): n. pag. Web.

[5] Alperin, Bruce, comp. The Business and Cultural Acceptance Case for Trayless Dining. Rep. N.p.: Aramark: Higher Education, 2008. Print.