Estimating Quantities and Types of Food Waste

December 28, 2018

NRDC’s Estimating Quantities and Types of Food Waste is a study and report based on studies performed in the cities of Denver, Nashville, and New York. The main objectives were to assess the amount of food wasted across the residential, industrial, commercial and institutional sectors; to determine why the food was wasted, and to assess the amount of edible food that could have potentially been donated to those populations in need.

Many cities are collecting data and performing waste characterizations to begin reducing the amount of food wasted and finding inedible food that can be composted or used in industries. Estimating a baseline of the amounts currently being discarded is a critical first step in the process. Without understanding basic information about how much food is being wasted and where that waste occurs, assessing progress and developing plans becomes overly challenging.

The report shows us what percentage of foods are inedible and edible, along with the most common foods wasted by residents (coffee, apples, bread, and milk). At the household level, total food wasted was 8.7 pounds per household week, and edible food wasted was 6.0 pounds per household per week. Smaller households have a larger percentage of wasted food too. Not surprising is that awareness of food waste can save consumers money, energy, and time.

Ideally, plans follow the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy in prioritizing prevention and rescue over other strategies. Developing detailed assessments can provide insight on food wasted by sector, by discard destination, by loss reason, and by food type, including breakdowns of edible, avoidable, and foods that can be rescued. Plans and studies provide additional data that can help in structuring effective interventions to reduce wasted food.

Similarly, few cities have tried to estimate how much surplus food beyond what is currently being donated could potentially be rescued and directed to people in need. Data on these unexploited resources clarifies the scale and sources of rescuable food and, along with information on what types of surplus food are currently needed in the community, can inform strategies for increasing participation in food donation efforts and bolstering food rescue infrastructure. It also highlights what portion of the city’s “meals gap” could potentially be addressed through increased food donation from pre-consumer surplus. See NRDC’s report Modeling the Potential to Increase Food Rescue: Denver, New York City and Nashville for more information on conducting a food rescue assessment.

Donation programs for institutions can be found online. Food Donation Collection is one. Finding a program to take residential pre-consumer surplus are usually limited to non-perishables which is why your city or community is supporting organized local programs such as Arlington Food Assistance Centers.




Posted by Diane Samuels at 6:00 am
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