Waste in Your World

One of the perks of running this site is getting feedback from readers. Recently, I was excited to receive this question from Kelley, a middle school student in Russelville, Ark. I’ll let her explain:

My name is Kelley and I’m in the seventh grade. Our class is a part of Project Citizen, it is where you find a problem in you community and try to fix the problem. I am writing to you today to ask your help. We are trying to find alternative ideas for the use of food waste. Could you please tell me some ideas that are taking place to use up food wastage.

In a follow-up e-mail, Kelley told me that she’s trying to save food in his school cafeteria from being thrown out. I told her I’d try to help him rescue this potentially wasted food and set out to learn about the Arkansas food recovery scene.

After a quick map consult, I called the food bank nearest Rusellville, the Little Rock branch of the Arkansas Food Bank Network. Unfortunately, they don’t take prepared food. They referred me to another Little Rock operation, Potluck Food Rescue, that picks up prepared food that would otherwise be thrown out. Sadly, they won’t make the three-hour round trip to Rusellville for anything but a large load. As I’ve found elsewhere, the near infinite waste trumps non-profits’ finite gas budget, time and supply of trucks and drivers.

Carol at Potluck said that they have gone as far as Russellville on a few occasions to pick up from ConAgra and Tyson Foods. These national suppliers will call Potluck when they have 20,000 to 25,000 pounds of meat to donate. Stunned by those figures, I asked how that happened. Carol mentioned that such excess occurs from processing mistakes like printing the wrong date on packages or damaging boxes so they can’t be sold.

As you can see, our food chain is far from perfect and errors can lead to great waste. Fortunately, food rescue groups like Potluck are positioned to prevent vast waste. But when a student notices her school cafeteria is squandering food, that small-scale waste is harder to prevent. “There are no rules for how far we go to make a pickup,” Carol said. “But if it’s less than 50 pounds, we usually don’t get it.”

As Carol suggested, I told Kelley to look for local shelters and retirement homes that might collect food from the school. We’ll see how she fares in this project. Regardless, she’s off to a great start as an involved citizen.

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