• Jonathan Bloom writes about why we waste food, why it matters and what we can do about it. This is his blog.

Webinar Questions Answered

I recently had the honor of giving the first ever webinar for Food Tank. At least that’s what I’m told happened. I just spoke into my computer and hoped that people were listening. And based on the array of questions, at least a few folks were!

While we allotted 15 minutes for questions, that time just flew by. Since I couldn’t get to most of the questions, I wanted to answer the remainder here:

Q: Seems odd that one of the drivers of waste is the low cost of food and overproduction, but yet there are a large number of food insecure (not saying the numbers are wrong, just seems odd). Seems like it should be easy to solve (to the naive like myself anyway).

A: It does seem odd. And it is odd! But that’s the dysfunctional food system we now have. You’re hitting on the fundamental incongruity of food waste. That we regularly discard a potential solution to hunger. It does seem easy to solve this imbalance because it would be. Or at least it would be if we really committed to tackling hunger.

How big is the impact of biofuel/ethanol? And does that factor into the waste count as well?

I’m not entirely sure what you’re asking, but biofuels have a significant impact on our agricultural system, as they, too, require plenty of pesticides, energy, water and land usage. And crops grown for biofuels aren’t factored into the waste numbers because they aren’t classified as a food items a human could eat. (Insert school food or mom’s cooking joke here)

In your opinion what area of the foodservice industry would warrant detailed research on foodwaste.

All areas of foodservice warrant a closer look! The industry-led Food Waste Reduction Alliance is doing just that, but I’d love to see more independent studies and data on exactly where our waste is coming from. In general, all-you-can-eat and self-service are two major problem areas, though. When the two combine, it’s the worst case scenario, as it leads to great food waste, overeating and the inability to donate the remaining food (for health code reasons).

Everyone is concerned about feeding 9 billion people in 2050 – how do you feel about this?

I’m concerned! If we continue with our present rate of wasting—about 1/3 of global food supply isn’t consumed—we’ll be in big trouble by then. All the more reason to tackle our current food inefficiencies—and the sooner the better!

Read More »

May 2, 2014 | Posted in Composting, Energy, Environment, General | Comments closed

Redefining ‘Reduce’

Small bone to pick here: Several times a week I get excited by headlines like this one: Darden Restaurants Working to Reduce Food Waste.

I leap into the story, looking for confirmation that a restaurant is actually trimming the amount of food waste their kitchen and/or customers are creating. Almost invariably, I realize that they’re not doing anything of the sort. They’re either donating food, feeding it to livestock or composting it.

Don’t get me wrong–what those Darden restaurants are doing is great. Getting those food scraps to livestock–via Organic Matters–is a progressive move. But given the EPA food waste hierarchy, it’s not nearly the best step. And it’s certainly not reducing waste.

The really sad part is that most restaurants could tackle both food waste and obesity by shrinking portion sizes.  And these restaurants–Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse and Red Lobster–could certainly do with smaller portions. That’s why it’s especially disappointing to learn that there are no actual waste reduction efforts. (There are other ways restaurants could trim food waste.)

But it’s a step in the right direction. And we’ll eventually realize that minimizing food waste is the most important step toward a healthier society and environment.

May 1, 2014 | Posted in Restaurant | Comments closed

Blown Away by Waste Buffet

On Tuesday, I gave a talk at Keene State College in New Hampshire. In conjunction with the visit, the progressive folks of Keene State Dining created this amazing tableau of waste: 

image courtesy of Keene State Dining

Dining workers pulled untouched and nearly untouched breakfast and lunch items from the plate return and assembled a visually appealing, yet haunting “waste buffet.” The attractive display was part of the point. This was not just edible, but appealing food items. Accordingly, the staff covered the food to prevent any impulse eating (and comply with health code regulations).

The students I spoke with were uniformly surprised by what they had helped create. And a few even admitted that they found the sight disgusting. And with 49 million food insecure Americans, that is a sensible response. Indeed, it is absurd that this kind of waste is commonplace on college campuses.

I found the unsullied sandwiches and whole fruits especially striking. And while I can understand leaving behind some fries for health reasons, who takes a piece of pizza and doesn’t even take a bite?!? (Sigh.)

Here are a couple more images from this wonderful awareness exercise:

image courtesy of Keene State Dining


image courtesy of Keene State Dining

April 25, 2014 | Posted in College, Institutional | Comments closed

Documenting a Week of Waste

With their Waste in Focus project, the wonderful team of photographer Peter Menzel and writer Faith D’Aluisio are doing for waste what they did for food in Hungry Planet: What the World Eats.

In the project, released last week and slated for an Earth Day exhibit in New York City’s Union Square, eight families of varying geography and backgrounds are depicted with one week of their trash. Menzel and D’Aluisio sorted and displayed the waste for the portraits to avoid altering behavior and facilitate comparison.

Charlene Wimms and Donell Brant of NYC, New York, with their children Darius Brant, 9, and Terrard Wimms, 16, surrounded by a week’s worth of their recyclables and landfill trash, in February. Recyclable items are on the left-hand side of the photo. Items destined for landfill are to the right. Their total household waste for this week was 28.9 lb. Seventy-nine percent of it (22.9 lb) was landfill and twenty-one percent of it was recyclables (6 lb).

As you can see throughout the eight photos, the families’ food waste sits on the right of each portrait (with other landfill trash), packed neatly into containers. While the clean containment of food scraps belies their unconfined environmental impact, it’s interesting to compare different families’ organic output. And on the whole, the project works wonders in raising awareness on our waste output. These images are powerful and will hopefully motivate us to reduce the amount of waste we create.

GLAD sponsored the project and provides the online forum for the beautiful, story-telling photos. The company is also a welcome addition to the coalition pushing composting forward in New York City.

April 15, 2014 | Posted in Environment, Household, Waste Stream | Comments closed

Putting a Price on Food Waste

The FAO Food Wastage Footprint project released their second video, and it’s a gem. This particular video focuses on trying to calculate the myriad costs of global food waste. Spoiler alert–it’s a lot of money! Nonetheless, the video makes for required viewing.

April 10, 2014 | Posted in Campaigns, International, Stats | Comments closed

Food for Thought

I just came across this recent EPA infographic on waste and particularly enjoyed this portion:

That 95% statistic comes from the EPA’s Municipal Solid Waste report, which shows that composting levels have doubled from 2008 to 2012. (It went from 2.3% to 4.8%.) While those low amounts enable such dramatic improvement, at least we’re improving!

I also like the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rethink part. That last ‘R’ is new to me, but it definitely works well with food waste. If we all rethink how we approach eating, we’ll likely waste less food.

April 4, 2014 | Posted in Campaigns, Environment, Household, Stats | Comments closed

Expect Big Changes with US Food Waste

There’s MAJOR NEWS in the battle against food waste–President Obama plans to issue an Executive Order making it illegal to throw away food. The Executive Order, helped forward by First Lady Michelle Obama’s urging, will amount to a de facto national ban on food waste.

Can you keep a secret?

An Obama administration official with knowledge of the plans said that the changes should occur in the coming weeks, once the showdown with Russia over Crimea dies down.

The ban will be part of a legacy-building effort by the Obama administration to impact climate change by dramatically reducing the amount of food that is wasted and ends up landfills. At present, food is the most common item sent to landfills, comprising 21 percent of the post-recycling waste stream.

In related news–Happy April Fools’ Day!

OK, so that national food waste ban isn’t actually happening–at least not yet! But wouldn’t that be nice?!  And there is plenty of movement on the subject, so perhaps the notion won’t be so far-fetched in a year or two. A guy can dream…

April 1, 2014 | Posted in Energy, Environment, General | Comments closed

Friday Fun

Food Wise Hong Kong was launched in 2012 by the (government) Environment Bureau with the task of reducing waste in a region with scant landfill space. To accomplish that goal, they’ve created the Don’t Be a Big Waster campaign.

While it’s hard to know exactly how to take it, the video and its content are pretty great:

OK, it’s not the catchiest song in the world. And that character, Big Waster, is a little confusing because he (it?) gives advice on avoiding waste while throwing away (or composting) food. Is he a good guy (thing?) or a villain?

And this line is a bit puzzling: “Why you order so much, man? Leftovers are such a waste! Yo! Yo!” But why not take those leftovers home?? I guess doggie bagging hasn’t fully taken off in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, we’ll chalk up the gratuitous double yo to cultural confusion.

Those quibbles aside, you have to marvel at the messaging (and sheer oddness) of Big Waster. BW is both a scold and a source of knowledge. He/it sure communicates a lot of information in a scant 30 seconds!

March 21, 2014 | Posted in Campaigns, International | Comments closed

Food Waste Doc to Debut

In very exciting news, yesterday saw the release of the trailer for the upcoming food waste documentary Just Eat It. The 75-minute film is finished and will start making the festival rounds next month.

I was fortunate enough to be interviewed for the film and can be heard but not seen (probably for the best) in the trailer. The filmmakers Grant Baldwin and Jen Rustemeyer, who previously made The Clean Bin Project, are both amazingly talented and friendly. As you can see from the trailer, the film is sure to both entertain and educate on food waste.

Just Eat It – A food waste story (Trailer)

March 19, 2014 | Posted in General | Comments closed

School Lunches Healthier, Just as Wasteful

Last week, a Harvard School of Public Health study exploring the impact of recent changes to school lunch came out with mixed news: students are eating more fruits and vegetables, but waste remains a problem.

After the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, new federal standards went into effect for the start of the 2012-2013 school year that increased the availability of whole grains, fruits and vegetables and dictated how much sodium and the kind of milk allowed. Additionally, students were required to take a fruit or vegetable.

image courtesy of TreeHugger.comAnecdotally, school staff said the stricter nutrition guidelines prompted more wasted food. To test that theory, the Harvard researchers conducted plate waste audits in Fall 2011 and Fall 2012 at elementary and middle schools in an urban, low-income area.

The results? Kids are eating more of their entrees (88%) and vegetables (41%) than before. This despite larger serving sizes for vegetables. Fruit consumption remained steady, despite the requirement that students take one piece (55%). That’s the wonderful news for our kids’ future health. 

The bad news: school food waste remains quite high–59 percent of vegetables are trashed! And more milk isn’t consumed, as students weren’t as excited about the shift to the non-flavored, skim or 1% versions.

While waste hasn’t increased, it remains a major issue. As the study concludes:

…the high levels of fruit and vegetable waste have been a continuous problem that warrants serious attention.

And that is how we end up with articles like “No Added Waste with New School Lunch Standards” that, way down toward the end, cite kids dumping 60 to 75 percent of vegetables and 40 percent of fruit.

March 12, 2014 | Posted in Institutional, Legislation, School, Stats | Comments closed
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