California’s SB 1383, the Short-Lived Climate Pollutants Act, sets a statewide goal for reducing organic waste to landfills of 50 percent by 2020, and 75 percent by 2025. Included in SB 1383 is a goal to recover 20 percent of edible food waste for human consumption.
Meeting these requirements, particularly the recovery of edible food, is not as straightforward as it might seem. For example, it is difficult to accurately identify edible food from other waste once it’s in the waste stream.
“We can estimate the amount of edible food during waste characterizations, but we find working directly with businesses to identify the edible food they can make available and in what quantities is a more holistic approach,” said Tracie Bills, SMM Northern California Director. “We assist businesses with identifying edible food recovery partners with reputable community programs to distribute food to people in need.”
SCS Engineers partners with Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen in San Jose to create a sustainable solution that could become a model for how municipalities can meet the 20-percent food recovery requirement.
Loaves & Fishes is a non-profit organization with roots going back 40 years. It’s grown from a simple soup kitchen to one of the leading providers of meals in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. The organization recently opened its new location in San Jose.
“Last year, we served more than 1 million meals, almost twice as many as just a couple of years ago,” said Mauricio Cordova, Loaves & Fishes’ COO. “With the help of local restaurants, grocery stores, and others, we’re able to use the food they can’t use to feed residents in need. In our new building, we expect to increase capacity to 10,000 meals per day.”
“Creating these partnerships isn’t part of our typical scope of work,” adds Bills. “But it’s important to go beyond simply identifying edible food. As we work with potential contributors and partners, we’re able to create a sustainable network that achieves a common goal.”
Says Cordova, “Through our A La Carte Food Recovery program, we can help companies divert perfectly safe and usable food away from composting and landfills, and re-distribute them in the form of meals to our most vulnerable neighbors. The all-around win is that people in dire need of food assistance – compounded by the impact of Covid-19 – can receive healthy, nutritious food, and companies lessen their food waste levels and greenhouse gas emissions.”
Loaves & Fishes has recovered more than 1 million pounds of edible groceries and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 1,058 metric tons.
Los Angeles County Public Works – Environmental Programs Division is receiving a 2019 Food Recovery Challenge Award from the United States Environmental Protection Agency – USEPA this year. The national recognition is for the County’s substantial increase in food recovery and sustainable materials management. EPA’s data-driven awards are based on the information submitted in the Sustainable Materials Management – SMM, Data Management System, and reflect percent changes comparing an organization’s data to the previous year’s data.
LA County Public Works serves 88 cities and a population of more than 10 million people. The County is continually pursuing ways to make its communities more resilient by identifying new SMM actions to address greenhouse gases, waste generation, and pollution.
The ‘Scrape Your Plate’ program encouraged the County’s Public Works employees to divert food waste from area landfills through organics recycling. Collecting food in the headquarters cafeteria and dining area, the program quickly expanded to include 20 on-campus breakrooms and special events at field facilities across the County.
Public Works, in collaboration with the Sanitation Districts, made use of the existing anaerobic digestion infrastructure to convert 13,700 pounds of food waste to electricity. Worm composting bins divert an additional 1,200 pounds of food waste and another 340 pounds were source reduced by improved planning by kitchen staff. All of these diversion tactics reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Getting employees and visitors to separate food waste properly is always a challenge. The project team, including SCS Engineers, significantly reduced cross-contamination by increasing on-site signage and peer-to-peer outreach. Signage, easily updated with user-friendly graphics makes a difference. The team further encourages new social behaviors with an educational video.
Despite the closing of recycling programs in other cities due to the pandemic, LA County Public Works is now expanding its program to recycle other types of organic waste, including food-soiled paper.
Preventing and reducing food waste has a tremendous impact and positive benefits for our nation. Food is a valuable resource. Efforts to reduce food waste and ensure excess food doesn’t go to waste are needed now more than ever. Participants in EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge in 2019 prevented or diverted over 815,000 tons of food from entering landfills or incinerators, saving participants up to $42.3 million in avoided landfill tipping fees. The EPA provides many helpful tools on its website.
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.