Businesses Can Save Billions by Cutting Food Waste

Food Waste

by | Dec 18, 2015

Food WasteFood waste is the single largest component of US municipal solid waste, it accounts for a major portion of the nation’s methane emissions — and it costs businesses billions.

The US Department of Agriculture estimates the food retail industry lost almost $47 billion in 2010 (the most current figures) from food losses — that’s 8 percent of their food supply.

In an effort to curb food waste, the USDA and EPA earlier this year launched a public-private partnership that calls for a 50 percent reduction by 2030, the US’ first-ever national food waste reduction goal. Retailers and food and beverage companies including Kellogg, Sodexo, Wegmans Food Markets and Albertsons have voiced support for the goal.

At the time the goal was announced in September, FreshDirect CEO Jason Ackerman called food waste “a significant issue facing food retailers” and said “our work with community partners like City Harvest to reduce food loss can be a model for others, but clearly more can be done.”

In June Unilever, Nestlé, Anheuser-Busch InBev and hundreds of other top food and drink companies, all members of the Consumer Goods Forum, committed to halve food waste within their operations by 2025, compared to a 2016 baseline.

And now that a bill has been introduced in Congress that aims to reduce food waste at the commercial level, these same industry voices say they are looking forward to working with lawmakers on the issue.

Food Recovery Act Introduced

The Food Recovery Act, introduced earlier this month by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) aims to reduce food waste in grocery stores, restaurants and farms by expanding tax deductions for farmers, retailers and restaurants that donate food to food banks and other similar organizations. It would also require any manufacturer that wants to put a date on their food to use the words “Best if used by” and also—in letters just as big—the words “Manufacturer’s suggestion only.”

It also aims to reduce food going to landfills by encouraging composting as a conservation practice eligible for support under USDA’s conservation programs and supporting food waste-to-energy projects, as well as creating an infrastructure fund to support construction of large-scale composting and food waste-to-energy facilities in states that restrict food waste going to landfill.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association president and CEO Pamela G. Bailey says GMA is reviewing the bill and looks forward to working with Rep. Pingree on the issue.

“Food waste is a very real problem and a top priority for GMA members and the food industry as a whole,” Bailey says. “The formation of the Food Waste Reduction Alliance in 2011, a cross-sector initiative we launched with retailers, restaurants and food service companies, is one way we are working to combat the issue, identifying sources of food waste, increasing the amount of food sent to food banks and decreasing food sent to landfills, and educating other food companies on how they can make an impact.”

Bailey says GMA members companies — some 300 food, beverage and consumer product companies including include the Coca-Cola Company, General Mills and Kraft Foods — are already working to reduce food waste. “In 2014 alone those surveyed donated 106 million pounds of food to food banks and recycled 93 percent of the food waste generated from manufacturing,” she said.

Laura Abshire, the National Restaurant Association’s director of sustainability and government affairs, also said the association is reviewing the legislation and wants to work with Rep. Pingree’s office.

How to Keep Food out of Landfills

“The restaurant and foodservice industry has been working diligently to minimize our food waste generation through reducing the amount of food waste being sent to landfills and donating more food to those in need,” Abshire says. “The NRA will continue our commitment to educate our members on the importance of environmental sustainability and food waste reduction through our Conserve program and as a founding partner of the Food Waste Reduction Alliance.”

In November, the FWRA published its second annual Best Practices and Emerging Solutions guide. It focuses on strategies food manufacturers, retailers and restaurant and foodservice operators can employ to keep food out of landfills, and to reduce food waste at the source.

The NRA’s own Conserve program, a free informational and educational resource for restaurant operators, that offers best practices in the area of sustainability, including food waste reduction.

As part of the program, NRA partnered with LeanPath to offer its members a discount on the automated food waste monitoring system. The product helps operators make data-based decisions on portioning and purchasing. MGM Grand Buffet, using LeanPath, reduced waste by 80 percent and is now saving between $6,000 and $9,000 monthly in food costs — just one example of how businesses can cut costs and save money by reducing food waste.

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