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Disrupting Food Waste in the Workplace

Yvette Cabrera — Former Food Waste Analyst
Disrupting Food Waste in the Workplace
Photo Credit: jeffreywvia

Have you ever gone out to eat out with your colleagues and completely forgotten about your cardboard box of leftovers in the fridge? Or brought your apple to work and when you got to the core, not known what to do with it? There is no “organics” bin in many offices. So, you throw it in the trash. One apple core may not be a big deal. But it’s not just one apple core, offices across your city are tossing their apple cores in the trash every day and that adds up. According to the “Save the Food” campaign by Ad Council, “Food is the number one thing in America’s landfills, and it contributes more to climate pollution than all of the cars in Georgia.”1

“Food waste is a global issue, but local and individual actions are a big contributor—like that banana peel that you threw in the trash, or the leftover food from the cafeteria that nobody ate during the day.”

At The Rockefeller Foundation, we believe that everyone has a role in reducing food waste. Businesses and their employees are in a prime position to raise awareness about the issue by changing office practices to prevent food from going to waste or to the landfill. Companies can provide their employees the tools and advice they need as to how to reduce their own waste, both at home and at the office. Food waste is a global issue, but local and individual actions are a big contributor—like that banana peel that you threw in the trash, or the leftover food from the cafeteria that nobody ate during the day.

When we launched our YieldWise initiative earlier this year, we held our first-ever Food Waste Week at the Foundation’s offices. We hosted a range of activities to raise awareness around food waste issues, highlight the efforts of our cafeteria, which is run by Restaurant Associates, to minimize food waste, and help staff learn about what they can do in their daily lives to reduce food waste. For example, our chef featured a range of tasty menu options, like a “rescued salmon wrap,” and a “rescued curry turkey salad,” which incorporated leftovers or food trimmings that might typically be put into the trash. Chef John Berninzoni said, “Using food most efficiently and deliciously is engrained in a kitchen’s culture, so the most refreshing part about Food Waste Week at the Restaurant Associates Café was that the employees’ awareness was heightened and now, when I use the word ‘rescued’ on a menu item, people eat all of it and appreciate it more.”

It only took one week and one champion to engage employees and start the conversation around food waste in our office. We want other offices to get excited about food waste too, so we developed a Food Waste Toolkit for the Office, which we hope will help other organizations to more easily run their own Food Waste Week and increase awareness of and action on the issue. Below are some ideas and tips included in the Toolkit that can help you organize a Food Waste Week in your office.

  • Identify a food waste champion in your office to coordinate the events. Change can start with one person, so whether that person is passionate about the environment, or is just good at inspiring others, it will be important to designate one person to organize the events and get employees to be more mindful about what they are putting in the landfills.
  • Understand what your office is already doing to prevent food waste. Every office is different, so it’s important to understand the intricacies of your own in order to take the appropriate action. We sat down with Chef John at the Foundation and asked him about the waste that our cafeteria generates, and found out some surprising stuff. For example, people like fruit in their breakfast, but most people want their fruit to be sliced, not diced, which makes it more difficult to repurpose the leftovers. Or on Fridays during the summer months, it’s likely that there will be less employees in the office, so the kitchen always prepares less in order to not have a surplus of prepared food right before the weekend.
  • Hold a contest for best “wasted food” recipes. Our employees were able to show off their cooking skills by submitting “wasted food” recipes, from leftover oatmeal muffins to pineapple peels juice, into a contest to win a copy of The Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook.
  • Screen a documentary. The Rockefeller Foundation staff learned about the art of dumpster diving during their lunch hour when they kicked back to watch “Just Eat It.”

There are plenty of different activities to do during Food Waste Week laid out in the toolkit, and they can be modified to best fit your office’s interest and level of engagement. The goal is to start the food waste conversation, and inspire people to think about all the resources, energy, and time that went into the food they’re scraping off their plate and into the trashcan.

We found that making a difference in our office really begins with educating and motivating our employees to make small changes in their daily lives, which translate to their home and office. More and more businesses are committing to zero waste-to-landfill by signing the American Business Act on Climate Pledge and taking action in their operations. The time is ripe to disrupt food waste, and the place to start is where you and many other Americans spend the majority of their waking hours, in the office.

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