Businesses and organizations that have pledged to reduce food loss and food waste by 50% in their operations by 2030 were honored in October 2022 at a Food Loss and Waste event sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), FDA, and USDA. Designated “2030 Champions” for their public commitment to fulfill the 2015 goal set by EPA and USDA to cut food waste in half by 2030 (as part of the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals), the businesses honored included food companies such as Kellogg’s, Kroger, General Mills, Tyson, and others.
Cutting food waste is increasingly seen as a critical component of addressing what remains a sorry blight worldwide in 2022: global hunger. This concern is highlighted in the Zero Hunger Challenge set by the United Nations that lists the adaptation of all food systems to eliminate loss or waste of food as one of the five key elements to end hunger and eliminate all forms of malnutrition globally. In the U.S., the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy prioritizes the redistribution of food to hungry people as one of the top preferred strategies that companies can take to prevent and divert wasted food.
The need for this redistribution is uncontested given the staggering number of people in the world who don’t have enough food to eat. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, up to 811 million people worldwide face hunger. In the U.S. alone, the Food Research and Action Center says that 38 million people, or 11.8% of the population, struggle with hunger. Furthermore, these numbers are based on 2020 estimates, numbers that undoubtedly rose during the pandemic, and more are increases expected due to the war in Ukraine.
Comprising between 30% and 40% of the food supply in the U.S., food waste through redistribution and, more recently, upcycling, is an increasingly attractive way for food manufacturers and processors to redirect more of their surplus toward beneficial aims such as hunger relief while at the same time making their processes more efficient and cost effective.
Among the incentives for companies to participate in food redistribution are laws protecting against liability, technologies to help with the safe distribution of goods from facility to donor site (either directly or via distributors), and expanded policies in the U.S. and abroad that are moving toward restricting food waste.
Easing Safety Risks
Jackie Suggitt, director of capital, innovation, and engagement at ReFED, a nonprofit organization that provides data-driven solutions to eliminate food loss and waste in the U.S. food system, characterizes redistribution of food waste as a “very easy sell” for companies not already participating in sustainability issues. “There is a great business case for just about anyone who is looking at food waste to improve the bottom line financially,” she says, citing the cost savings to a company by reducing inefficiencies such as waste.
According to data provided by ReFED, food manufacturers generate among the lowest annual percentage of food waste among all the sectors involved in the food supply chain (from producers to investors) given the built-in efficiencies already in place in manufacturing systems; however, current data showing that manufacturing generates about 10.6 million tons of surplus food highlights the fact that more can be done to reduce waste. Of the waste generated, most is due to byproducts and production line waste (91.4%), followed by buyer rejections (6.6%) and unshipped finished product (2%). By product, dairy and eggs make up the largest surplus (41.6%), followed by dry goods (28.8%) and produce (18.4%).
One major challenge for manufacturers in redistributing goods, particularly products requiring refrigeration such as dairy and eggs, is maintaining the cold food chain. “If I’m a producer and want to donate a product from point A to point B, I need to ensure that the right temperatures are maintained throughout the entire distribution of the product,” says Suggitt.