The afternoon session examined impacts of reducing food loss and waste from three perspectives: the impact on food availability, as covered in this chapter, the impact on food prices and farm income (Chapter 5), and the impact on the environment (Chapter 6). According to moderator Brian Roe, Van Buren Professor in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics at Ohio State University, these three core issues often drive motivations for many organizations and individuals to reduce food loss and waste.
Liz Baldridge, director of sustainability and food waste initiatives at Feeding America, said that rescuing food that would otherwise go to waste is vital to a hunger-free country. Forty million people are food insecure in the United States, including 12 million children and 4.9 million seniors. Hunger affects all aspects of a person’s life, including children’s ability to learn and their cognitive growth, as well as stress levels. Hunger, she emphasized, is a public health problem. She underscored that food rescue is only one strategy; it is of course more important to reduce the number of people in need of rescued food in the first place.
Feeding America encompasses 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs, reaching 46 million people annually. The food banks are found across the United States, although sometimes not located
where food waste is generated. Geographic considerations require additional steps for surplus food to be eaten by someone in need. Feeding America rescues food from farmers, agricultural processors, manufacturers and distributors, retail grocers, and small-format retail operations (such as convenience stores). The largest portion comes from a retail donation pick-up program. In fiscal year 2018, Feeding America distributed 5 billion pounds of food, of which 3.5 billion pounds was rescued and may have otherwise gone to less-preferred food recovery models (such as composting or landfill/incineration) or become waste.
Ms. Baldridge noted that the organization’s efforts have evolved based on consumer and food industry trends. On the consumer side, these trends include a growing demand for fresh, natural food; increased consumption of some dairy items; and continued demand for food high in protein. Food industry trends include more efficient manufacturing supply chains (including zero-waste goals), production of more nutritious foods, and new digital initiatives, including direct-to-consumer delivery. The challenging impacts of this evolution for Feeding America include fewer food donations created by inefficiencies, higher costs to access food donations, and food donations that include more fresh and perishable foods; however, the new digital channels are an advantage in providing food to people in need.
Feeding America is focusing on increasing donations received from farms, where 20 billion pounds are wasted annually, and on consumer-facing businesses, where 50 billion pounds are wasted annually. Nutritious, perishable foods constitute nearly 80 percent of food wasted from these sources, including meats, fruits, vegetables, and dairy. Feeding America has a system of eight produce cooperatives nationwide that help distribute food where it can be used—for example, helping to ensure that one food bank does not have 15 truckloads of green beans that it cannot fully use. The cooperatives help with demand matching and cost optimization. With small-format retail, the approach is for food pantries and meal programs to source food directly, rather than through the larger food banks. Benefits of small-format retail include proximity, the ability to provide fresh and perishable food without storage concerns, and the inspiration when local operators see food donated to help neighbors. A tool called MealConnect facilitates the safe and quick donation from grocery stores and food service operations by matching them to local food banks, pantries, and meal programs.1 The tool is seamless, easy to navigate, and offers real-time data collection.
Kroger is focused on achieving Zero Hunger | Zero Waste in communities where the grocery chain operates, said Denise Osterhues, who leads sustainability and community engagement for Kroger as senior director of corporate affairs.2 Kroger has nearly 2,800 supermarkets in 35 states and the District of Columbia, operating under nearly two dozen banner names. It also operates 36 manufacturing or food processing facilities and 42 distribution centers. Kroger’s Zero Hunger | Zero Waste social impact plan encompasses all aspects of the corporate social responsibility efforts. The seven-point plan includes a $10 million innovation fund and accelerated donations to give 3 billion meals by 2025 (with a first milestone of 1 billion meals by 2020). The company wants to donate more balanced meals, not just larger quantities of food, and to advocate for public policy solutions with new and long-standing partners, including Feeding America (see above) and World Wildlife Fund (see Chapter 5).
Ms. Osterhues described the company’s five zero-hunger, zero-waste priorities. First is to reduce food waste, with prevention as a top priority. Kroger used the World Resources Institute’s Food Waste and Loss Standard (see Chapter 2) to measure and provide data at the store level and throughout the value chain. Total waste diversion company-wide from landfill was found to be 77 percent: more than 90 percent in manufacturing and logistics, and 59 percent in retail stores. Further, after food rescue, approximately 73 percent of waste was going to landfills. These data helped to show the company’s leadership the opportunities for improvement. Programs include Kroger’s produce markdown process or red bags, which discounts produce with some blemishes or bruises. In the first quarter of 2019, the company is also launching PICKuliar Picks, a new product line that will offer imperfect produce to consumers to show that these fruits and vegetables are “imperfect but perfectly delicious.” Kroger also offers recipes and food waste reduction tips for consumers, including a “wilted to wonderful” series at www.krogerstories.com.
The company’s second priority is to increase food rescue through donations. While the food is wholesome and safe, it may be nearing its expiration date or otherwise can no longer be sold in stores, she said. Kroger began its Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Food Rescue Program nearly 10 years ago as the Perishable Donations Partnership, developed with Feeding America. Virtually all stores participate in food donations.
Kroger’s third priority is food waste recycling. Almost 2,000 Kroger-operated stores across the United States have food-waste recycling programs in which food is diverted to animal feed, compost, and anaerobic digestion. In some areas, Kroger hopes to provide better resources and infrastructure for food waste recycling, including states like Indiana, where composting is not widely available.
The company’s final two priorities are zero waste in manufacturing and logistics, with a focus on food waste, and driving awareness with growers, vendors, and customers. Ms. Osterhues stated that Kroger recently announced a grant to World Wildlife Fund to support its Wild Classroom curriculum and Food Waste Warrior Toolkit, which will help elementary school children learn about ways to reduce food waste.
Thomas Hertel, professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, moved from the on-the-ground examples of Feeding America and Kroger to a more global perspective, based on research he conducted with a Ph.D. student Emiliano López Barrera at the university. A recent paper published in Nature showed that reducing food loss and waste is part of solutions, along with changing diets and improving technologies to remain within planetary boundaries defined as a safe operating space for humanity, while feeding the world in 2050.3 Dr. Hertel stated that the research shows the importance of reducing food loss and waste from a global environmental perspective.
Dr. Hertel noted that while most research on food waste is focused at the micro-level of households and businesses, and these levels are important, he said that a global perspective is also required, with improvements needed in empirics and analytics.4 Dr. Hertel’s research looked at food waste in
3 Springmann, M., M. Clark, D. Mason-D’Croz, K. Wiebe, B. L. Bodirsky, L. Lassaletta, W. de Vries, S. J. Vermeulen, M. Herrero, K. M. Carlson, M. Jonell, M. Troell, F. DeClerck, L. J. Gordon, R. Zurayk, P. Scarborough, M. Rayner, B. Loken, J. Fanzo, H. C. J. Godfray, D. Tilman, J. Rockström, and W. Willett. 2018. Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits. Nature 562:512-525. Available at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0594-0?WT.feed_name=subjects_sustainability.
4 Dr. Hertel noted that most studies still rely on the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2011. Global food losses and food waste: Extent, causes, and prevention. Available at www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/ags/publications/GFL_web.pdf.
108 countries across time to understand the relationship between growing incomes and growing waste. Current approaches leave waste factors along the food system constant over time, he pointed out, but he suggested an alternative approach to adjust these factors noted in research by Hall and collaborators in 2009.5 Their method of deduction looks at waste as the difference between the U.S. food supply and food intake (the food consumed by the population), which takes into account body mass index and body weight, physical activity, and other factors.
Dr. Hertel and Mr. López Barrera have developed preliminary measures of the share of food waste and availability of food in different countries. These data show low amounts of food waste in low-income countries, compared to middle- and high-income countries. As per-capita income rises, the share of food waste rises, eventually reaching a plateau at the highest income levels. Their analysis shows that the share of food waste is increasing most dramatically in middle-income countries. He illustrated this trend with data from China.
Dr. Hertel and Mr. López Barrera used a model developed for interdisciplinary teaching and research called the Simplified International Model of Prices Land Use and the Environment (SIMPLE).6 Mr. López Barrera began with work on obesity but then wanted to understand how much of purchased food is consumed, leading to the analysis of food waste. SIMPLE-FW (food waste) incorporates the estimated relationships between the share of food waste and per-capita income, by country. As noted above, as nations become richer, the portion of caloric purchases wasted grows, eventually at a decreasing rate where the overall share of waste also levels off.
The model also has enabled the exploration of how food waste mitigation interacts with international trade. Again using China as an example, Dr. Hertel presented a scenario of segmented agricultural markets that freezes the share of food waste in availability at 2006 levels versus a scenario of fully integrated international agricultural markets. In this latter scenario, there are more significant spillover effects of mitigating food waste in China.
5 Hall, K., J. Guo, M. Dore, and C. C. Chow. 2009. The progressive increase of food waste in America and its environmental impact. PLoS One 4(11):e7940.
6 Publications related to the SIMPLE include: Baldos, U. L., and T. Hertel. 2012. SIMPLE: A Simplified International Model of agricultural Prices, Land use and the Environment. GTAP Working Papers 4021. Lafayette, IN: Center for Global Trade Analysis, Department of Agricultural Economics, Purdue University; and Hertel, T. W., and U. L. C. Baldos. 2016. Attaining food and environmental security in an era of globalization. Global Environmental Change 41:195-205.
For example, the model can show the impacts on crop price, cropland, and undernutrition in Africa from policies in China.
In summary, Dr. Hertel concluded:
- Important work is underway at the microlevel to understand the determinants of food waste and implement potential solutions.
- In some cases, national estimates reflect this work, with the World Resources Institute–led Food Loss and Waste Protocol 1.0 as a promising, bottom-up, long-term global effort (see Chapter 2).
- The global pattern of food waste is evolving rapidly. While the share of available food wasted has leveled off in rich countries, it is growing rapidly in middle-income countries. Absent mitigation policies, China is projected to dominate the global food waste landscape.
- Consequences of food loss and waste reductions interact with trade policies.
- Mitigation of food waste and loss is important to attaining global environmental goals, including remaining within the planet’s “safe operating space” for land, water availability and quality, and greenhouse gas emissions.
- Measurement is the foundation of international action; approaches are needed to implement and incorporate into quantitative models.
An audience participant asked about the balance between wanting to eliminate food waste while taking care that foods distributed are not of low nutritional value. Ms. Baldridge said that Feeding America has a program called Foods to Encourage, with resources directed toward the distribution of more nutritious food. It is doing waste audits to ensure that partners provide wholesome food and do not push waste to food rescue. Ms. Osterhues agreed with the need to balance the plate of the food rescue program. Currently, Kroger donates a significant amount of meat because it can be frozen at the right time and held for pickup. Food safety is Kroger’s top priority, and it is working to increase the number and types of food that can be safely donated.
Another participant asked Dr. Hertel about the mechanisms that explain the link between income and food availability. Dr. Hertel said they
are in the process of assembling the database to look at underlying relationships. Mr. López Barrera stressed that they are using a relative measure, looking at per-capita and not total amounts.
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