Ideas & Insights / All Perspectives / Ideas & Insights

How Might We Dramatically Reduce Food Waste by Transforming Our Relationship With Food?

Hunter Goldman — Former Director, Innovation, The Rockefeller Foundation
One-third of all food that is produced for our consumption in the U.S. ends up rotting in landfills, resulting in 16 percent of our nation’s methane emissions.

What did you have for dinner last night? Did you cook, eat out, order delivery? How much of that meal wasn’t eaten and ended up in the trash can? While optimization of food systems has led to better access and often times a lower cost of food for consumers, it has also led to an even greater volume of food being wasted or spoiled. Globally, 30-40% of food produced for consumption is wasted each year representing massive social, environmental and economic losses.

The case for improving food security for the 800 million undernourished people across the globe has long been a priority of the global development agenda. Zero Hunger features prominently as Target 2 of the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals. While increasing crop yields and improving supply chains will lead to an increased supply in the market, for those living in countries like the United States, dealing with the demand side of the equation could lead to a profound reduction in the 48 million Americans categorized as food insecure.

The Rockefeller Foundation first came to the issue of food waste through our work to reduce post-harvest losses in Sub-Saharan Africa. Up to 40% of various crops are left in the fields or lost in transit to markets. We were astounded when looking at the US and Europe that loss rates don’t decrease, they just shift further downstream into homes and consumer facing businesses.

We are now working globally to demonstrate that it’s possible to cut food waste and loss in half—be it smallholder farmers in Africa or in businesses and homes in the United States through our $130 million dollar YieldWise initiative.

As we continue to learn about what drives food waste here in the United States, The Rockefeller Foundation, in collaboration with The Fink Family Foundation, ReFed and the City of San Francisco, came together with OpenIDEO in July to launch the Food Waste Challenge. Intended as a means to incentivize open innovation by providing an opportunity for actors to collaborate, exchange ideas and propose novel solutions that aim to reduce food waste in the United States. The challenge is designed in three phases:

  1. Research—stories, reflections, interviews and findings related to food waste are shared on the platform;
  2. Ideas—co-created solutions that address waste are submitted aligned with particular opportunity areas; and
  3. Refinement—all ideas are encouraged to continue progressing through feedback and user testing.

This week wrapped up the conclusion of the Challenge’s Research phase, where several common themes emerged:

  • Spark Waste Movements—Widespread change often starts with passion projects at the local level. Innovators around the world are building micro-communities to tackle food waste.
    • Salvage Supper Club in NYC is organizing pop-up dinner parties where meals are made from past-prime food served in scrubbed down dumpsters.
  • Waste Means Business – Food scraps and throwaways are increasingly being repurposed as business opportunities in local economies.
    • Crooked Cucumbers launched a Kickstarter to create a brans of soup that only uses ‘wonky’ vegetables.
  • Change Our Ways—Our love for over-indulging on lots of food often comes from the cultural and family values we grew up with.
    • Mama, I Know You Love Me but…in Indian and other cultures, mothers are known to overfeed their children to show love and affection. How can we say, “Mama, I know you love me, but no more food please!”
  • Share Your Meal—Every effort to reduce food waste also creates opportunities to fight hunger in our communities.
    • Share My Dabba (Lunchbox): Mumbai’s lunchbox delivery network now lets people share leftover food with the hungry street children by placing a simple “Share” sticker on lunchboxes
  • Set the Bar—If you can measure it, you can improve it. Reducing food waste starts with defining what good waste management looks like.
    • Reducing Portion Sizes: The South Australian government is working on a trial to get restaurants and pubs onboard to reduce their large portion sizes.
  • Storage and Packaging—While modern day consumer packaging and in-home refrigeration have dramatically increased the shelf-life of foods, they’ve also lowered our awareness of buying only what we can eat.
    • No-Waste Shopping: Original Unverpackt is a package-free supermarket in Germany where shoppers can bring their own containers to buy food in the exact amounts they need.
  • Explore New Ways—The boundaries of conventional waste management are being pushed by emerging technologies and processes.
    • Food + Future CoLAB: A collaboration between Target, IDEO and MIT Media Lab is developing in-field drone technologies to monitor, scan, prune and dehydrate fruit on the spot.

We want to thank the over 150 direct contributors to the Research phase of this challenge and are excited to officially launch the Ideas phase this week. Reducing food waste as a broader movement means it must be sparked at the individual level. Think about that leftover portion from last night’s dinner. Now think about what you will do to make sure it doesn’t end up in the garbage. We want to hear your bold and novel ideas and encourage you to share how you would dramatically reduce food waste in order to benefit us all.

Tags :

Leave a comment