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21 Inspiring Initiatives Working to Reduce Food Waste Around the World

This week we’re celebrating World Environment Day (June 5th) by highlighting innovations working to reduce the tremendous food waste and loss that occurs throughout the world.  

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted annually. Some countries are, unfortunately, greater culprits than others; according to the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN), the total amount of food wasted in the U.S. exceeds that of the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, France, and Germany combined. In addition, the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that global food production accounts for 70 percent of fresh water use and 80 percent of deforestation. Food production is also the largest single driver of biodiversity loss and creates at least 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

But UNEP’s recently launched Think.Eat.Save initiative is working with groups around the world to develop and coordinate projects to prevent the environmental problems that can result from food loss and food waste.

Food Tank: The Food Think Tank will feature a series of articles throughout the week highlighting different initiatives that are helping to prevent food waste in developing and industrialized countries alike.

To kick off the week, we’ve compiled a list of 21 organizations working in schools, restaurants, businesses, and on farms to make sure all of the labor and natural resources that go into growing, processing, and marketing food doesn’t go to waste.

1. Al Maha Desert Resort (Dubai, United Arab Emirates) – In an effort to attract clients, many hotels and restaurants tempt guests with access to a wide range of elaborate–and often large–meal options. To prevent waste, the Al Maha resort incorporates uneaten items into later meals – for example, serving breakfast pastries as lunchtime desserts.

2. City of Austin’s Zero Waste Initiative (Texas, United States) – In April, the Austin City Council voted unanimously in support of a city ordinance to require all restaurants over 460 square meters (5,000 square feet) to separate all compostable materials from other waste by 2016. Smaller restaurants will have to undertake the initiative by 2017. This is part of Austin’s goal to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills by 90 percent by 2040.

3. Culinary Misfits (Berlin, Germany) –Started by two friends, Culinary Misfits seeks out the ugly vegetables at grocery stores, farmers markets, and restaurants and turns them into delectable dishes at the events they cater in the city. 

4. DC Central Kitchen (District of Columbia, United States) – From the 370,131 kilograms (816,000 pounds) of food it recovered in 2011, DC Central Kitchen provided almost 2 million meals to those in need in the DC area.  In addition to recovering food from organizations and restaurants, DC Central also offers local farmers fair prices for their produce, helping to contribute to the local economy.

5. Dickinson College Campus Farm (Pennsylvania, United States) – This student-run farm composts daily deliveries of salad bar scraps from the cafeteria. In 2005, Dickinson expanded the compost program into a campus-wide initiative with student farm workers, partnering with facilities management to ensure that campus food waste is composted.

6. Feeding the 5000 (United Kingdom/International)Tristram Stuart’s initiative is organizing the world to prevent "wonky" fruits, vegetables, and other food from being wasted. Feeding the 5000 encourages farmers to participate in the “gleaning movement” – where volunteers collect unattractive produce that would otherwise be wasted.

7. Food Recovery Network (Maryland, United States) – A group of enterprising University of Maryland students decided to take action and launched this initiative with the goal of delivering cafeteria leftovers to local food shelters. It has since expanded to 11 chapters on campuses across the U.S. Students involved in the Food Recovery Network visit their campus dining halls nightly to rescue leftover food and deliver it to local shelters and food pantries. Close to 55,000 kilograms (121,000 pounds) of food have been rescued by the Network since 2011.

8. Food Waste Reduction Alliance Project (United States) – The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) have teamed up in this three-year initiative to reduce the amount of food waste sent to landfills and increase the amount of food donated to food banks. They also use waste for energy, compost, and animal feed.

9. FUSIONS (Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimising Waste Prevention Strategies) (European Union) – After recognizing that the European Union discards approximately 89 million tons of food every year, Brussels has pledged, through the FUSIONS program, to reduce that number by half by the year 2025. Currently in development, FUSIONS hopes to tackle the issue throughout the supply chain, working with farmers so that they don’t reject less-than-perfect-looking produce. And they work with grocery stores to offer discounts to consumers on products that are nearing their expiration dates.

10. Hands for Hunger (The Bahamas) – This organization is working to improve food security in the Bahamas while simultaneously reducing food waste. By mobilizing individuals and community organizations, Hands for Hunger gathers unused food from grocery stores, hotels, and other businesses, which is then distributed to low-income residents, including victims of abuse and psychiatric patients.

11. Last Minute Market (LMM) (Italy) – LMM works with farmers, processing centers, grocery stores, and other food sellers to reclaim food. Founded by BCFN adviser Andrea Segrè, LMM now runs food donation programs in more than 40 Italian communities.

12. Love Food, Hate Waste (United Kingdom) – This program teaches consumers about food waste and provides them with helpful portioning and planning tips, as well as an array of recipes to make sure food doesn't go to waste.

13. The Postharvest Education Foundation (Oregon, United States) – This organization offers training materials, e-learning programs, and mentoring opportunities that help farmers around the world prevent food loss. Their postharvest management guide is available in 10 languages, featuring topics such as how to choose the best time for harvest and the advantages of different transportation methods.

14. Sanford and Son (Illinois, United States) – Sanford and Son is a father-and-son company that works in the West Side of Chicago to repurpose food waste for urban farms. Ray Sanford and his son Nigel recycle food waste from restaurants and private homes and convert it into organic compost, which is then distributed to urban farms to use as fertilizer. They claim to save 226 kilograms (500 pounds) of organic waste for each family that uses their composting services.

15. Save Food from the Fridge (The Netherlands)Jihyun Ryou, Korean designer and expert on food preservation, launched this project that attempts to prevent waste in homes. She outlines several ideas for keeping foods fresher longer without the use of modern kitchen technologies. In addition, she has also created a collaborative blog where anyone can submit their own innovative food storage ideas.

16. Society of Saint Andrew (United States) – This national network connects volunteers with farms to glean produce that has been left unpicked after a harvest. The Society distributes the gleaned produce to food banks and other organizations serving marginalized communities. In 2012, the Society gleaned 10.4 million kilograms (23.7 million pounds) of produce across the United States.

17. Songhai Centre (Sub-Saharan Africa) – The Songhai Centre is a sustainable development organization that, among other projects, teaches environmentally conscious farming practices in rural areas in Benin, Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their agricultural education is based on a policy of production totale zéro déchet (zero waste total production) – in the organization’s own words, “the byproducts of one field are valuable raw materials for another.” 

18. Springboard Kitchens (Pennsylvania, United States) – This Pittsburgh organization, through a partnership with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, rescues 3,200- 4,500 kilograms (7,000 - 10,000 pounds) of fresh food that would have otherwise been thrown away, and prepares approximately 4,000 meals per day.

19. Stop Spild Af Mad (Stop Wasting Food) (Denmark) – Danish food expert Selina Juul’s campaign inspired Danish supermarket Rema 1000 to replace buy-one-get-one-free and other quantity-based discounts with general discounts in all of its stores. Such discounts, frequently implemented by grocery stores to get produce off the shelves, often result in food being wasted at home.

20. Think.Eat.Save (International) – This initiative, launched by the U.N. Environment Programme and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, works to reverse food loss and food waste by providing consumers, retailers, leaders and the community with advice and ways to take action to reduce their yearly food waste.  The campaign aggregates and shares different methods of conserving food, including policy recommendations and steps that consumers and households can take on their own to prevent waste. 

21. University of Cincinnati SolerCool (Ohio, United States) – Developed by MBA students at the University of Cincinnati, this solar-powered refrigerator runs on eight solar panels to keep food comfortably cool when it is being transported.        

These initiatives cover a wide range of sectors – private businesses, universities,and  nonprofit organizations – and illustrate the extent to which collaboration is the key to change.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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