How to Hack Your Local Food System to Prevent Waste

Farm-to-table is the buzzword, but too often farm-to-landfill is the reality.

This article is part of a special series from our fall 2019 climate issue on how you can level up your actions against climate change. Visit the full Climate Action Guide here

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that  annually 30 to 40 percent of the food supply is wasted; one study equated that to 133 billion pounds of food worth $161 billion. What’s more, food occupies 22 percent of the space in landfills, which in turn produce 20 percent of the methane the United States sends into the atmosphere. In other words, food waste offers a huge opportunity to make a climate difference.   

In Pittsburgh, the nonprofit 412 Food Rescue fights waste by linking places with surplus food with organizations that need it. Its app, Food Rescue Hero, works like Uber: Volunteers get push notifications when a nearby food rescue is ready. From 2015 to 2018, the group saved more than $14 million worth of food. Now the program is spreading to other urban areas, including San Francisco, Cleveland, and Philadelphia, with a goal of reaching 100 cities by 2030. Here are three ways cofounder and CEO Leah Lizarondo suggests reducing food waste in your city (until 412 Food Rescue comes to town). 

1.) Be a food-rescue hero, even without the app. Many businesses are receptive to Good Samaritans willing to take their waste to a shelter. Grocery stores, schools, universities, restaurants, and hospitals are excellent places to start, according to Lizarondo.

2.) Petition your city to introduce a composting program. Many cities already have a recycling program, so there’s a model to point to. If that doesn’t take, start composting yourself; more and more farmer’s markets have compost stations for easy drop-off.

3.) Ask your local supermarket to mark down items on the verge of hitting their expiration date. And remember, sell-by and use-by dates are guidelines, not gospel. Most food is often fine beyond this date (within reason, of course).