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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Business and Innovation in Food Waste


Food that is thrown away winds up in landfills where it gives off methane, a greenhouse gas with a warming potential 23 times that of carbon dioxide. Food waste is a huge problem in the U.S. where 63 million tons of food are tossed every year at a cost of $218 billion. That wasted food uses 20 percent of America's fresh water, fertilizer, cropland and landfill space.

The nonprofit organization ReFED released two new tools to help prove food waste reduction creates business opportunities and jobs, and to demonstrate the potential to simplify food date labeling.

ReFED's Innovator Database focuses on startups founded around food waste innovation. It tracks over 400 commercial and nonprofit organizations that combat food waste while creating over 2,000 jobs, more than 200 of which have been founded in the last five years.

The database allows users to look at the food waste innovation sector and presents solutions by type and geography. It also helps connect innovators to the private sector, government, foundations, and investors for collaboration and fundraising. The majority of innovators in the database are for-profit (70 percent) with 55 percent offering services nationally.

Consumer education is an important component in reducing food waste, and it is one of the categories in the database. About 25 percent of produce is wasted before it even hits supermarkets because it does not look aesthetically perfect. That equals 20 billion pounds. Two campaigns on the database are trying to put an end to that wasted produce by educating consumers.

The Ugly Fruit and Veg campaign, founded in 2014 and based in Castro Valley, California, posts daily social media pictures of fruits and vegetables that are not as perfect looking as we are used to seeing in supermarkets. The campaign has over 100,000 followers in more than 180 countries on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and We Heart It.

The Ugly Produce is Beautiful campaign is based in New York City. Founded in 2016 by food expert and entrepreneur Sarah Phillips, the campaign is a global movement of producers, retailers, restaurants and consumers who are creating awareness about the nutritional value of “ugly” produce. The campaign helps people take action to increase their consumption of ugly produce through recipes and tips on a companion website called CraftyBaking.com.

ReFED’s Policy Finder focuses on government and identifies opportunities to simplify state and federal food labeling regulations, which save consumers and businesses over $29 billion a year.

The ReFED Policy Finder, developed in partnership with Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic, features an interactive map of federal and state laws and policies. Almost half of all states have enacted food donation liability protections above the federal baseline that encourage businesses to donate foods that would otherwise be thrown away. Of the 10 states that generate the most food waste, California is the only one that offers state-level incentives to promote food donation and has an organics waste recycling law on the books, according to ReFED. 

None of the 50 states regulate every category of date labeling, ReFED says. Georgia regulates all aspects but perishable foods. Washington, D.C., on the other hand, regulates every category which includes perishable foods, potentially hazardous foods, milk dairy, meat/poultry, shellfish and eggs.

“These tools reveal that food waste reduction is both a source of viable, scalable business enterprise and a potentially significant job generator,” said Chris Cochran, executive director of ReFED, in a statement.
Last year, ReFED released a report which laid out ways to reduce food waste by 20 percent. Doing so would create 15,000 new jobs, double recovered food donations to nonprofit organizations, reduce up to 1.5 percent of fresh water use, and avoid almost 18 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year, according to the organization.

In other words, food waste reduction is a win-win for Americans and the environment. And it's simply good business. 

Image credit: Flickr/Nick Saltmarsh

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

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.

Read more stories by Gina-Marie Cheeseman