Food Waste to Resource

Food Waste to Resource

June 26, 2013
Retail Industry InsightsTrends

Kimberly O'Hara
The Food Journal

As reiterated by Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund, one out of every three calories produced in the US is wasted. This was just one of the serious facts brought up in 2012 at the Food Security Summit. Fortunately, there are some game changers making big advances to not eliminate but to minimize the increase in food waste in this country.Even with the best of efforts there is still going to be food waste and food that doesn’t go to humans or animals. However, new best practices can reduce the staggering numbers of how much food is wasted in this country. The following three organizations (in two of which anaerobic digesters are used) show practical ongoing solutions employed to turn food waste into energy and more food. Sharing what these innovators have discovered in their efforts to repurpose food can help turn around the food waste problem in America, turning it into a valuable resource. Knowledge sharing is part of the solution. 

Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy/DMI:

Dairy people talk about nutrient recovery and how what comes from the land can go back to the land. Food waste can be turned into valuable nutrients for farming. With enhanced technologies, adding food ‘waste’/aka nutrients into an anaerobic digester on a dairy farm can not only create natural fertilizer but also clean, renewable energy to power homes. 

When interviewed by the Food Journal, Erin Fitzgerald, Senior Vice President, Sustainability, Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy made key points: ”The Innovation Center believes retailers and farmers together can realize the market opportunities and environmental benefits of repurposing so-called food ‘waste’ so everyone — farmer, retailer and consumer as well as the planet — benefits. Retailers have already been thinking about zero waste goals. We are just starting to talk with them about taking that to the next level – instead of zero waste, think of it as an awesome opportunity to recycle nutrients. Simply put, manure and food waste are nutrient-rich resources that we can put to use to grow more food.” She also adds that for the farmer the Innovation Center has numerous resources to help forge these relationships, whether it’s building upon existing frameworks or helping lay the groundwork for new partnerships. These resources include: a Digester Project Funding Guide which lays out where the funding can be obtained; and a National Market Value of Anaerobic Digester Products that reports the value and return on investment for products from dairy digesters.  

“Recycling the valuable nutrients from food waste and manure back into the land just makes good sense. The opportunity is here now to shift the thinking and mindset — it’s not a food waste problem, it’s an opportunity. The process will continue to evolve, with small changes and small wins leading to bigger wins over time.”  Read full story in Erin Fitzgerald's interview here

Kroger’s Compton Distribution Center:

According to a Kroger press release, Kroger’s anaerobic conversion system will convert food that cannot be sold or donated into clean energy to help power its Ralphs/Food 4 Less distribution center in Compton, CA. The Food Journal spoke to Suzanne Lindsay, Director of Sustainability, The Kroger Co. about the formal launch of this innovative investment (in the works for four and a half years). “Environmental projects have the same business filters as any other project. This decision met and beat our internal hurdle rate and was a fantastic business decision for us. FEED is the Boston-based company that designed and implemented the system in Compton. It started as a casual conversation between our CEO and a young entrepreneur named Shane Eten from FEED,” says Suzanne. 

Although 365 stores backhaul to the Compton Distribution Center, Suzanne reiterates the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy. “We continue to communicate to our 750 stores that currently compost that they should first and foremost donate any and all safe and nutritious food. As a grocer, one of our top priorities is to feed hungry people. Anything beyond that which is not safe or nutritious food, we are looking for the highest best use. And in Southern California, it’s the Kroger Recovery System.” Read full story in Suzanne Lindsay's interview here

Food Waste solutions in the UK:

The U.K.’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, wants to move towards a ‘zero waste economy.’ They are developing programmes such as the Waste Prevention Programme for England. They’ve called for evidence which will be published into a report in Dec 2013. Similar to the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, this information gathering processinvites views and information to help inform the Programme. In 2000, in response to the waste issues in the UK as critical, the government participated in funding WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme). Their message was that ‘waste’ is actual ‘stuff with value.’  In 2007, WRAP funded the “Love Food Hate Waste” campaign. According to BSR’sReducing Household Food Waste report, “Research shows that while most consumers are interested in making environmentally responsible choices, they will do so only when it makes economical sense.” Clearly following up their message with facts has had an effect. WRAP claims a savings of 670,000 tons of food waste in the U.K. between 2005 and 2009.

Americans Are Thinking More About Their Food: 

Kai Robertson, a Corporate Sustainability Advisor & Food Waste Expert states, “We, the eaters, are responsible for much of the food that ends up in our landfills… Yet while shifting our collective mindset about wasting food and developing new habits may take some time (and patience), it is possible and necessary.” She offers examples of companies offering a range of solutions to address the reasons why we toss food in the first place. For leftovers, condiment and spice manufacturers like Knorr promote their products as solutions for creating ‘lovely leftovers.’ General Mills’ Betty Crocker brand has created a popular cookie recipe that incorporates cereal left at the ‘bottom of the box’ - a creative paring across two of General Mills’ product categories. For proper food storage, Ziploc has been actively promoting its products as solutions to reducing waste, offers food storage tips, and recently released a compostable food storage bag. Read Kai Robertson commentary for full story