New reports reveal that two-thirds of residential food waste in three United States cities is edible while 68 million more meals could be donated to people in need annually in these same cities. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) worked in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation to examine the amount and kinds of food waste in Denver, Nashville, and New York City to identify opportunities to tackle food waste.
“An outrageous amount of food is wasted in our cities, yet at the same time many residents are in need,” says Dana Gunders, senior scientist at the NRDC. “Making the most of our food supply has wide-reaching benefits—helping to feed people and save money, water, and energy in one fell swoop. These reports offer cities a critical first step.”
In the report Estimating Quantities and Types of Food Waste at the City Level, data was compiled from food diaries, surveys, and food waste audits (digging through trash and compost) to determine what kinds of waste were being generated as well as why people discarded food. They found that the average person tossed more than 1.5 kilograms (3.5 pounds) of food per week, two-thirds of which was edible. The top reason for tossing food was that it was moldy or spoiled, followed by people not wanting to eat leftovers. In all three cities, coffee, milk, apples, bread, potatoes, and pasta were in the top ten tossed edible foods while the residential sector was the top waste producer (in Nashville, residential was tied with the restaurant sector).
“The best way to keep food from going to waste is to prevent it from the start,” says Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist in the NRDC food and agriculture program. “When cities look to reduce food waste, they often focus solely on recycling methods—such as composting—but prevention is where environmental and cost benefits are greatest. By assessing how much, where, and why food is going uneaten, we can help cities take stronger, more effective action to waste less food.”
The report Modeling the Potential to Increase Food Rescue: Denver, New York City and Nashville, estimates the amount of surplus food that can be donated to people in need. Cumulatively across the three cities, an additional 68 million meals could be donated annually. This would help meet 46 percent to 48 percent of the unmet food needs in Denver and Nashville, and 23 percent in New York City. The report identified the retail grocery sector as the largest untapped potential for increasing food donations, but hotels, healthcare, universities, and schools also have strong potential.
“Cities across the country have enormous potential to get more food into the hands of residents who need it most,” says JoAnne Berkenkamp, senior advocate in the NRDC food and agriculture program. “Our analysis provides insight that can help cities do just that.”
Additional surveys conducted by the NRDC reveal a disconnect between perceived and actual impact. Although 57 percent of respondents think their actions make a meaningful difference in reducing food waste, 79 percent think they already produce less waste than the average American. The NRDC is working with the Ad Council to raise awareness about food waste and disseminate tips to reduce it.
“We know that individual families, up to entire companies and governments, have a part to play in the fight against food waste. But until now, we didn’t fully understand what, how, and how much we waste,” says Devon Klatell, Associate Director at The Rockefeller Foundation. “With this important new research, cities like Denver, Nashville, and NYC can better rescue surplus, wholesome food; they have the data they need to set policy and feed more people in their cities. Everyone wins.”
A live webinar will discuss these reports with a panel of experts on October 31 at 11am EST, moderated by Danielle Nierenberg (Founder and President, Food Tank). To learn more, click here.