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The Problem with Food Waste

Solutions to Grocery Store Food Waste


Food waste in the U.S. is a major problem. The economic impact of food waste in the U.S. is equivalent to $197.7 billion, according to a report by the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN). 

Forty percent of food goes uneaten in the U.S., a National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report found. While some of it is thrown away by consumers, some of it is also thrown out by retailers. In store food losses totaled about 43 billion pounds in 2008, equal to 10 percent of the nation’s total food supply at the retail level.

There are a number of solutions to reduce food wasted by grocery stores and one of them is legal. Earlier this year, France passed an amendment to ban French grocery stores from either throwing away or destroying unsold edible food. Although the amendment was dropped from the new law, a bill is being proposed to ban food waste in grocery stores.

One U.S. state decided to take action to reduce food waste. Massachusetts and its Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) established a ban on solid waste disposal. The ban applies to businesses and institutions that throw away one ton or more of food waste a week and went into effect on October 1, 2014.

Businesses and institutions that are affected by the Massachusetts law are required to either donate or re-purpose the usable food, and the remaining food that can’t be used can either be sent to an anaerobic digestion facility and converted to energy or to composting and animal-feed operations. The ban helps the state reach its goals to reduce all waste by 30 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.

Another solution is for governments to encourage food waste reduction. Back in September, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Deputy Administrator Stan Meiburg announced the country’s first national food waste reduction goal of 50 percent by 2030. To help meet the goal, the federal government is leading a new partnership with the private sector, nonprofit organizations, and state and tribal governments to reduce food waste and loss.

That is not the first time the federal government encouraged food waste reduction. In 2013, the Department of Agriculture and EPA launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, which helps organizations and leaders share practices for reducing, recovering and recycling food waste.

One organization works with grocery stores to sell misshapen produce

One of the reason’s why grocery store chains are responsible for so much food waste has to do with consumers. Most people pick produce that look good and bypass the misshapen fruits and vegetables even though they are edible and packed with the nutrients our bodies need. Twenty percent of the produce grown in the U.S. is rejected from grocery stores because it is misshapen, according to Imperfect, the organization that buys the fruits and vegetables usually overlooked.

Imperfect buys misshapen fruits and vegetables directly from farmers that grocery stores have rejected and sells it at a 30 to 50 percent discount. It does so “in order to reduce food waste and increase access to fresh produce,” Ben Simon, CEO, Imperfect told Triple Pundit. The organization’s mission is to “show the world the true beauty of ugly produce” and it has a weekly produce delivery subscription in the Bay Area with about 1,000 subscribers.

Imperfect is the “first major company to sell this cosmetically-challenged or ‘ugly’ produce through grocery stores.” One of those grocery store chains is Raley’s, which has stores in California and Nevada. Last summer, Raley’s partnered with Imperfect to sell misshapen fruits and vegetables. Calling the pilot program “Real Good,” Raley’s launched it in 10 Northern California stores in mid-July. Through the program, Raley’s sold misshapen produce in the participating stores at a lower price.

It is important for grocery stores to sell misshapen food, Simon said. The reason is simple. “For the average American consumer, grocery stores are their connection to where food comes from,” he explained. “As anchor institutions in our communities, grocery stores have a responsibility to be part of the solution around food waste.” Grocery store chains have a “big opportunity with the new ugly produce trend to do well and do good at the same time,” he added.

Food waste is not only an economic problem but an environmental problem. Food waste in the U.S. makes up 21 percent of the nation’s municipal solid waste in landfills, giving off methane, a greenhouse gas with a warming potential 21 times carbon dioxide. Landfills are the third largest source of methane emissions in the U.S. As Simon put it, “Food waste is one of America's largest environmental challenges,” and it is “one of the leading drivers of climate change.” And one of the “largest contributors to food waste in America” is misshapen fruit, he said.

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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