Last year I helped organize a campus-wide barbeque at my school, Washington State University. We hired vendors to bring food, but overestimated how much food to order. Even with thousands of students cycling through the food line, we still had at least twenty trays left over. We tried to get students to take some home, but still had a decent amount sitting on the tables. All of that perfectly good food went in the garbage – but now I know it didn’t need to!
Wasting More Than Just Food
Food waste has been getting a lot of buzz lately – and it’s no surprise. Some shocking facts about food waste caught our attention…
Like the fact that American families waste about a quarter of the food they buy. Or that a third of the food produced in the world is wasted. Or that food waste makes up half of a restaurant’s waste stream.
Any way you look at it, there’s a lot of food out there that could be eaten, but instead is going to waste. And all the resources – the water, the fertilizer, the labor, the transportation, the preparation – that went into producing that food go straight into the trash can.
The good news is, communities are starting to pay attention and work to bring these numbers down. Good Samaritan laws protect donors, food banks and meal programs from liability for donated food, so food doesn’t have to go to waste over fear of legal issues. Both businesses and community members are working on creative solutions to get food that needs to be eaten before it goes bad to people who are hungry. Composting and disposal of good-to-eat food is becoming a last resort.
Connecting Business’ Food Waste with Hungry People
Nationwide, programs are sprouting up to get food from businesses, which would otherwise be wasted, onto people’s plates. Boulder Food Rescue and sister organization Seattle Food Rescue are taking on food waste with bicycle power – bike volunteers pick up donations and deliver them locally to people in need. The app Food Cowboy helps growers, truckers, and wholesalers find buyers for refused deliveries or route them to charities. This logistics app helps businesses work with other businesses to keep food from being wasted. Ballard’s Market Gleaning program takes donations from vendors at their weekly farmer’s market to then donate to local food banks. New businesses are also popping up to reap profits from rescued food, like turning melons that can’t be sold at grocery stores into watermelon juice. Imperfect Produce offers a subscription box of “ugly” fruit and vegetables that don’t meet grocery store aesthetic standards.
In our area, Food Lifeline provides an opportunity for caterers, grocery stores, restaurants, and other businesses to donate food. They accept perishable grocery products, shelf stable items, and prepared food, and help distribute it to local food banks. In Kirkland, businesses including Safeway, QFC, Fred Meyer, and Courtyard Marriot partner with Food Lifeline to redirect surplus food to families in need.
Communities get creative to save food from the trash can
Businesses aren’t the only ones joining the effort in salvaging food. People around the world are finding creative ways to get good food that they don’t need to their neighbors who do need it. German food sharing website Foodsharing.de helps people share with neighbors in need and find food that they need. Got leftovers? Post them. Need a cup of sugar? Search it. It’s practically an online grocery store!
The small Spanish town of Galdakao started a community fridge called the ‘Solidarity Fridge’ where anyone is welcome to deposit or pick up food at any time. Too many leftovers from your event last night? No problem! Share it with your neighbors by dropping it off in the community fridge.
A new idea in the U.S., first tested in May 2016, riffs on the Little Free Library concept to share food instead: the Little Free Pantry. Neighbors donate food to the pantry so that other neighbors could feel free to take food if needed. What an easy way to help with food insecurity in your area. Kirkland has its first Little Free Pantry in the Rose Hill neighborhood!
How you can help rescue food
Reducing the amount of wasted food is the first step to tackling the food waste problem, but there will always be some extra food. Getting edible food to people in need is the next best solution – better than composting or throwing away food. Don’t worry if you end up with more fresh food than you can eat, you have a ton of options besides your yard waste cart!
A quick and easy way to give away food is on Kirkland’s four Buy Nothing Project Facebook pages, neighborhood sharing groups where all items are given to others for free. You can post perishable and non-perishable foods that you are trying to get rid of, then your neighbors comment that they want it, and you leave it on your front step for them to pick up!
Donate food to the Rose Hill Little Free Pantry. You could also start your own Little Free Pantry – a perfect project for the handy-man in your neighborhood. Get food to a good home and meet more neighbors – a win win.
Hopelink Foodbank, located in the Totem Lake area of Kirkland, happily accepts food donations. In addition to pantry items, Hopelink also accepts donations of fresh produce. Call ahead so you deliver it at a time they can make sure the fresh food will be distributed.
Do have an apple tree but can never seem to eat all the apples? You can contribute fresh fruit to City Fruit in Seattle to donate to those in need.
I’m thinking it might be time to start some food sharing in my neighborhood! How will you help with food waste?