Tackling the Complex Issue of Food Waste with Diverse Solutions

David Fikes, FMI VP Consumer/Community Affairs and Communication
The two statistics often collide ironically in the minds of anyone exposed to them. All who hear Feeding America's data points stating how many pounds of food go to waste in America (70 billion pounds) and the number of people in our nation living in food insecure households (49.1 million) are instantly caught by the incongruity that 25 to 40 percent of the food produced is never consumed while 14 percent of American households experience hunger.

But as is often the case, statistics allow the issue to be stated dramatically and simply, but the specific solutions are far more complicated. After all, if the answers were easy, others would have solved the problem of food waste by now. Each link in the food chain – farm, production, transportation, retail, consumption – faces its own unique set of obstacles and challenges to overcome in reducing its particular version of food waste. Solutions for food manufacturers do not necessarily work for food retailers, approaches that would reduce food waste at the farm would not be applicable to addressing food waste in the home. The good news is the complexity of the issue is not stopping people from looking for innovative solutions necessary to reduce food waste in each level in the U.S. food system.

At FMI's and GMA's Global Sustainability Summit this summer in Denver, one of the most exciting and energetic sessions was the Food Waste Innovation Start-Up Challenge, developed in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. From a larger field of applicants, six food waste innovators were selected and given three minutes to make their pitch before a panel of experts and to the full conference audience. The ideas ran the gamut from sophisticated high-tech energy systems to solutions reliant upon the strategic use of insects. The six finalists and their particular solutions put forth were:

EnviroFlight, LLC – which uses the co-product from breweries, ethanol production, and pre-consumer food waste as a feedstock for Black Soldier Fly larvae (hermetia illucens), a nonpathogenic insect, which in turn can be used as a supplement to feed aquaculture species.

Food Recovery Network – the 2011 brainchild of three University of Maryland students, the FRN unites students on college campuses to recover perishable food unnecessarily being discarded from campus dining halls and diverting it to people in need. They aim to be on 180 campuses by 2016 and to recover 1.2 million pounds of food.

Greenbelt Resources Corporation – designs and establishes highly efficient installed networks of customer-owned modular ethanol plants providing localized processing of locally generated waste into locally consumed ethanol.

Imperfect – an online produce delivery company, Imperfect offers consumers the opportunity to save money by buying discounted perfectly good and healthy fruits and vegetables that fail to meet retail specifications of size, shape or color.

MEANS Database – Matching Excess And Need (MEANS) is an online platform that makes it easier for donors with surplus food to communicate the food's availability to nearby food banks, facilitating timely pick-up, delivery and use.

Supercook – utilizes a website filled with resources to help consumers unlock the potential of their pantry and refrigerators by making the best and tastiest use of the ingredients they already have.

Food Waste Innovation Start Up Challenge competitors pitch their ideas at the FMI/GMA Global Sustainability Summit.

The diversity of the solutions offered in this challenge point to the complex issues that reducing food waste presents to each link in the U.S. food chain. While, the Food Waste Innovation Start-up Challenge was offered as a contest with a cash prize to the winner, the reality remains that all of these ideas were winners because it will take all these, plus many more solutions, to maximize America's use of the food produced and cut what we waste to an absolute minimum.