This Turkey Day, Let’s Put a Spotlight on Food Waste Reduction
By Julia Renner, Programs Fellow
After the fanfare of Thanksgiving inevitably comes leftovers: turkey sandwiches, turkey soup, and turkey in every other form. But often, too much of that food ends up decomposing in landfills, emitting greenhouse gases. Fortunately, Massachusetts and Boston are at the forefront of national efforts to reduce food waste and redirect that food towards the people and organizations that need it the most.
Food waste in America
The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that 30% of groceries bought in the US are thrown away every year – a loss that costs more than the entire budget of the USDA. When this food enters landfills and decomposes, it emits methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And food that goes to waste doesn’t go toward feeding the 18 million food-insecure households in the United States, including one in five Bostonians.
Massachusetts: a national leader
The Massachusetts government is a leader in reducing food waste. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection was the first in the nation to put a ban on disposal of more than one ton of organic materials a week; those materials now are diverted to composting, recycling, or reuse.
Boston area organizations leading the way
Organizations in and around the Greater Boston Area are leading the way in redirecting would-be food waste to the people who need it most. Check out a few:
Lovin’ Spoonfuls focuses on the rescue and redistribution of fresh, healthy food, especially fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. They rescue food from grocery stores and farmer’s markets and bring it to local food service programs. Donors receive a tax deduction for the donated food. To date, they’ve redistributed 7,500,000 pounds of food, feeding 500,000 people.
Food for Free has a mission to address obesity, malnutrition, and other diet-related diseases as they distribute rescued food to food service programs. They focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, delivering food directly to isolated senior citizens and people with disabilities. Over the past year they prevented 2 million pounds of food from going to waste, feeding 300,000 people.
Cero provides compost pickup for businesses, allowing them to compost their food waste without having to start their own composting projects. After collecting food scraps, Cero aerobically digests them and then diverts the resulting product to soil at local farms, providing valuable nutrients. Every ton of food waste that Cero composts results in 0.71 tons of landfill carbon emissions avoided, and sequesters 0.24 tons of carbon in soil, where it doesn’t contribute to climate change.
The Boston Public Market recently opened a partnership with several local food rescue organizations. Vendors at the Market can give their leftover food to the Greater Boston Food Bank and Lovin’ Spoonfuls, who distribute it to community institutions including Haley House, the Pine Street Inn, and the New England Center for Homeless Veterans.
Spoiler Alert is an MIT-based startup that allows manufacturers and restaurant owners to post about leftover food and sends a notification to local organizations that will redistribute it to those in need. It was a recent winner of the MassChallenge competition.
What can you do?
Reducing food waste can start at your own Thanksgiving table. You’ll save resources including water, fertilizer, and water; reduce methane emissions; and return nutrients to the soil if you choose to compost. To reduce food waste and your carbon footprint at Thanksgiving dinner, try some of the following easy steps:
- Plan with your Thanksgiving guests, so that you don’t bring more food than you’ll eat
- Consider reducing your use of meat, which is more resource- and emissions-intensive than plant-based foods
- Use all of the ingredients you buy, and use all of your leftovers – get creative, and go beyond turkey sandwiches!
- Donate the non-perishables you don’t use to some of the local hunger-fighting organizations mentioned above
- Consider composting your scraps, either by starting a compost heap or by bringing your scraps to a local community compost location
If you own a restaurant or catering business, reducing food waste after Thanksgiving and all year round has both environmental, economic, and social benefits. Reducing the amount of food you throw out increases your bottom line – food waste from the commercial and industrial sector results in $30-$40 million per year in losses. And donating your unused food to organizations that can bring it to those in need allows you to become more involved in your community.
You can reduce your business’s environmental “food-print” with some of these tips:
- Buy only the food you need. Consider conducting an internal organics waste audit to see what food is going unused
- Educate your employees about food waste reduction to encourage a culture shift in the workplace
- Donate your leftover non-perishables to food banks and shelters
- Send your unused perishable foods to nearby farms to be used as animal feed, compost them, or send them to anaerobic digestion facilities
As for all the food that doesn’t go to waste – enjoy it! Happy Thanksgiving, all.
About the author: Julia is a senior at Northeastern University, majoring in environmental science with concentrations in marine and conservation science and a minor in English. She has previously worked as a Commonwealth Wind Fellow at Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and conducted ecological research at Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center and the Martin Ryan Marine Science Institute in Galway, Ireland. Julia is interested in climate policy, carbon pricing, and climate adaptation and resilience. In her free time she can be found outside running, biking, scuba diving, and spending time on the seashores around Boston.