Keeping Food Out of the Trash Bin
As much as 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. is wasted, even as one in six Americans goes hungry. Instead of feeding people better, we are feeding the city dump. Of all types of trash, food consumes the most space in our municipal landfills, followed by plastic and paper. Rotting food then releases harmful methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
While food waste is a big problem, social entrepreneurs see a big opportunity. Around the country, they are working to reduce, recover and rethink discarded food valued at more than $160 billion a year. In the process, they are not only cutting food costs, but also creating jobs and fighting climate change.
University of Maryland College Park alumna Cam Pascual co-founded the nonprofit Food Recovery Network (FRN) after watching hundreds of pounds of food hit the trash in her campus dining hall every night. Pascual and her colleagues mobilized a volunteer network to shuttle leftovers from the university to soup kitchens, donating 200 meals a night to feed the hungry.
In the last five years, FRN has recovered more than 1 million pounds of food from 184 campuses in 42 states, proving that ingenuity and philanthropy can together fight the food waste travesty. “There are two major barriers to recovering leftover food; one is awareness, like helping businesses to understand the laws that protect them from liability,” says Pascual, the organization’s current director of innovation and operations. “The other is the labor involved. Universities are the perfect ecosystem for food recovery because college students have flexible schedules and are community service-minded, offering a ready supply of volunteers.”