As COVID-19 upends the global food supply chain and disrupts economies around the world, the threat of food waste looms particularly large.
Farmers are faced with fields of crops and no buyers, and restaurant owners find themselves with pantries and fridges of food they can’t serve. Meanwhile, not all food pantries have enough space or staff to handle massive influxes in donations—or demand. Around 40 million Americans were food-insecure before the pandemic, a number that has only increased in recent weeks.
ReFED, an organization that analyzes solutions to food waste, is working to save food and deliver relief to those in need through the COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund, which launched this week.
By giving more than US$1 million in grants throughout the month of May, ReFED’s goal is to prevent 10 million pounds of food from being wasted. This is enough food, they estimate, to serve 8.3 million meals to those in need. ReFED aims to grant a total of US$10 million throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Founded in 2015, ReFED uses data-driven research to identify top opportunities to reduce food waste and bring stakeholders together to act upon them. Their landmark Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste identified 27 detailed solutions that can also cut emissions and save money, ranging from the standardization of date labels to the use of smaller plates.
ReFED is actively looking to distribute grants to organizations that can quickly commit to preventing or rescuing at least 250 tons of food within the next three months. Through May 18, 2020, the COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund is holding an open call for applications from U.S.-based groups. Any for-profit company, social enterprise, or registered non-profit with a budget upwards of US$500,000 is eligible.
The COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund can also begin giving grants to certain pre-vetted initiatives immediately, including Food Rescue US, Wholesome Wave, and Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, among others. The average grant amount is US$50,000, and ReFED will award donations approximately every other week.
“This year, I think it’s pretty clear there’s going to be extra food going to waste. In that sense, [COVID-19] sets us back, because you can’t plan for shutting down half the food system,” ReFED Executive Director Dana Gunders told Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg on Food Talk Live.
“But in the long term, does it build more awareness? Do we actually find some opening for solutions that are created in this moment to last longer-term? Do we build habits that lead to lasting results? I think that’s where the opportunity lies. I’m optimistic that it’ll tip in the right direction.”
The priorities of the COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund are based on ReFED’s quantitative research into the causes and hotspots of food loss and waste. The Fund has identified three major areas of attention for potential solutions:
1. Recovery of healthful foods, particularly on farms. ReFED finds that upwards of 10 million tons of food are lost on farms each year because the crops do not meet cosmetic standards or are never harvested. The Fund aims to encourage innovation in new sales markets and processing techniques to address this.
2. Solving logistical challenges in the supply chain. Much food waste could be addressed by better coordination among distributors, including improvements to cold storage.
3. “Last-mile” delivery of food to those in need. The Fund is focusing on food rescue to ensure that food-insecure communities receive this nutritious food in a convenient and dignified way.
ReFED is accepting donations to the COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund via GoFundMe, and is sending 100 percent of contributions directly to grantee partners. Organizations interested in partnering with the Fund can fill out a brief online application by May 18, 2020.