The University of Washington’s Center for Public Health Nutrition recently released a new report on food waste in the City in partnership with the Office of Sustainability and the Environment and Seattle Public Utilities. I digested their findings for this week’s No Waste Wednesday blog! With nearly 700,000 people in Washington state facing hunger, reducing food waste is a critical issue.
The report details the challenges of food waste prevention faced by anti-hunger agencies, public and commercial sectors in Seattle. Much of what is reported has been shared on a national scale before, demonstrating similar local and regional trends:
- There is a general lack of knowledge of importance of food waste prevention across sectors
- Food-generating businesses generate waste due to cosmetic imperfections, expiration dates, damaged goods, misconceptions about consumer behavior and overproduction
- Anti-hunger agencies struggle to find adequate space for perishable donations
- Anti-hunger agencies do not receive enough NUTRITIOUS donations
The critical, emerging theme for me while digesting all of this information was BALANCE. How do communities do their best to alleviate environmental stresses from needless food waste while feeding hungry people? The glaring problem is if communities succeed in preventing food waste – as we’d like to do – doesn’t that make less food available for those in need? How do we honor all of our objectives while creating a more sustainable food system?
The imbalance experienced by the interviewed groups in the report was fascinating. Entities attempting to do the right thing by donating are discouraged by red tape and lack of inventive. Anti-hunger agencies explained that they are struggling with large compost bills because donors are bringing in many perishable foods that frequently cannot be distributed in time. So instead of spending money on transportation to pick up fresh foods from retailers, these agencies are allocating funds to compost someone else’s food. Of course, the intentions are good!
What is clear is just how significant the lack of awareness contributes to failing food recovery measures. This includes lack of awareness over laws exempting businesses that donate from liability, such as the Good Samaritan Law, as well of lack of awareness that food donations are tax deductible. This includes a lack of understanding of what regulations food banks and distribution centers must abide by when accepting and distributing donations or general operating costs.
Things YOU as the consumer can do to create balance:
- Properly sort your food waste when you’re out of the household – compostable items often have to be thrown in the garbage because customers haven’t sorted their waste properly
- Get vocal about your beliefs! One of the largest reasons for food waste in retail is due to overstocking. Grocers want their products to appear bountiful and fresh. Will you buy the last cucumber on the shelf? Do it! Demonstrate that it’s about the quality, not the APPEARANCE of quality.
- Educate yourself and those around you about the myths of best-by/sell-by/use-by dates. If the milk smells fine, it is usually fine!
- Donate your TIME to a food recovery agency – like your local food bank or City Fruit (!) - to better educate yourself on the constraints and challenges these agencies face. It’s enlightening, trust me!