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Companies at the Intersection of Food Waste and Hunger

By Brandon Tidwell, Darden Restaurants 

We live in a world where the amount of food wasted is on the rise while the number of people who are food insecure is growing. In 2010, the U.S. wasted 33.79 million tons of food while 17.2 million U.S. households were food insecure. Today, the number of people experiencing hunger is more than 50 million. There seems to be a true disconnect and we must find a solution for families in need while reducing our impact on the planet.

Recently, the National Resources Defense Council released a report on the environmental impact of food waste and the numbers are astonishing—from both a social and environmental perspective:

  • Transporting food takes 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land and takes 80 percent of freshwater consumed in the U.S.; and

  • 40 percent of food in the U.S. today goes uneaten; that is the equivalent of throwing out $165 billion each year!

This is a major challenge that demands a closed loop approach.  As the population grows, hunger will be exacerbated and space available for landfills will decrease. Therefore, it’s a crucial time to find solutions.

The private sector plays a vital role in identifying solutions to reduce waste. Many companies have set waste reduction goals or even a “zero waste” goal, and are making considerable progress. In 2010, General Mills set a goal to reduce solid waste rate generation by 50 percent by 2015, and in 2012, reached its halfway mark.  Also in 2010, Unilever set a zero waste goal through its Sustainable Living Plan. In January, Unilever announced that more than half of Unilever’s factories achieved the goal of sending no waste to landfill in 2012, prompting the company to move up the target to 2015 instead of 2020.

We must also tackle food insecurity before it starts. Nonprofits including Feeding America and Action Against Hunger are supporting local food banks across the country by not only providing food to those in need, but also with the latest facts, research and resource information to combat the causes of hunger.

At Darden, we are celebrating 10 years of success through the Darden Harvest program. Harvest is a food donation program designed to address more than one issue—it reduces our restaurants’ amount of food waste sent to landfill, while feeding communities in need across the nation. Over the last 10 years, Darden’s more than 2,000 restaurants, through collaboration with Food Donation Connection, have donated more than 62 million pounds of wholesome, surplus food to thousands of food banks. Harvest is a yearlong attempt by the world’s largest full-service restaurant company to leverage its scale to take a closed loop approach to help those most in need. And it’s a key initiative toward achieving Darden’s zero waste aspirations.

By creating efficiencies to reduce waste, supporting our local food banks, and sharing resources and best practices, Darden and businesses like us are stepping up to the challenge of addressing waste as well as hunger. As we’ve seen in Darden Harvest, collaborative approach driven by the private sector makes for abundant impact. We hope more companies will join us in this effort to reduce waste and reduce hunger.

*** Brandon Tidwell is Manager of Sustainability for Darden Restaurants, Inc. Brandon is responsible for the development and implementation of corporate sustainability strategies and policies across all of Darden, integrating environmental considerations into the operations, culture, and supply chain, which includes more than 1,500 suppliers in 30 countries. Brandon is a candidate for a Master’s in Business Administration at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business. He holds a master’s degree in Social Work from Baylor and a certificate in Philanthropy from New York University.

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