Reducing Food Waste

It is estimated that up to 40% (approximately 133 billion pounds) of all food in the United States goes uneaten each year. That equates to an estimated value of $161.6 billion in retail prices, an estimated 141 trillion wasted calories per year, or 1,249 calories per person per day. On top of that, the US spends about $1 billion each year just disposing of food waste. Most uneaten food ends up in landfills where it rots and causes methane gas emissions. According to the EPA, food leftovers are the single largest component of waste stream by weight in the United States. Food waste includes uneaten food and scraps from:

  • Residences (e.g. households).
  • Commercial establishments (e.g. restaurants).
  • Institutional establishments (e.g. school cafeterias).
  • Industrial sources (e.g. factory lunchrooms).

Increasing the efficiency of our food system requires collaborative efforts by businesses, governments and consumers. The National Park Service (NPS), Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Defense (DoD), Bureau of Prisons, and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs are among the largest purchasers of food services in the federal government. In September 2015, in an effort to reduce food waste within their establishments, the above agencies forged a partnership with a number of charitable organizations, faith organizations, the private sector, and local, state, and tribal governments. Together, they have set a goal of a 50% reduction in food waste nationwide by 2030. This effort builds on past government initiatives to reduce food loss and waste.

As a concessioner, there are many tools available to help you identify waste generation patterns, thereby reducing food waste and the use of packaging within your establishment. Some benefits of using these tools include:

  • Saving money by reducing over-purchasing and disposal costs.
  • Supporting efforts to eliminate hunger.
  • Increasing tax benefits by donating food.
  • Supporting community waste reduction efforts.

Food Recovery Hierarchy

The EPA recently launched the Food Recovery Challenge (FRC), where organizations pledge to improve their sustainable food management practices and report their results. The FRC includes a Food Recovery Hierarchy (FRH), which helps organizations prioritize their actions to prevent or divert wasted food. Each tier of the FRH focuses on different management strategies for wasted food. The EPA also has a Guide to Conducting a Food Waste Assessment, a toolkit that food service establishments can use to track the daily amount, type of, and reason for wasted food. The toolkit comes with an accompanying guide, Reducing Wasted Food and Packaging: A Guide for Food Services and Restaurants that offers more information on turning audit results into action to save money and reduce waste. Once you have identified food waste patterns within your establishment, you can implement strategic operational changes that benefit your bottom line as well as the environment.

Want to join the U.S. Food Waste Challenge? Fill out the USDA activity form or sign up to participate in the EPA Food Recovery Challenge.