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Seating Hotels, Industry, Engineers, and Food Waste Experts at the Same Table

At times, reducing the 65.2 million tons of food Americans waste every year can feel like an insurmountable task. ReFED estimates that the U.S. spends $218 billion per year growing, processing, transporting and disposing of food that is never eaten. The average family of four is throwing away a whopping 2.5 million calories – enough for 3,400 individual meals – every year.

That’s more than a little change falling out of our collective pockets, and much more than a few crumbs or bruised apples left behind. We launched our YieldWise initiative last year because we believe cutting food waste and loss aren’t insurmountable tasks after all, if we can come together to make it happen. There’s certainly no shortage of desire for change – in fact, according to a survey by Ohio State University, 77% of Americans feel a sense of guilt about the food they waste.

But coming together means more than throwing away less food at the individual or family level; the problem of wasted food spans the entire American food system. It is discarded at every broken link in the supply chain, giving people, government, and companies all a role to play in tackling this critical issue. Repairing these links, and providing consumers with less wasteful food choices are mutually reinforcing goals that will save money, resources, and most importantly, food.

The moment is ripe for a systemic approach, which is needed if we’re going to cut food waste in half.

That’s why we recently began working with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which is – together with the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) – seeking to translate the hotel industry’s success with water and energy conservation into success on the food front. We’ve already seen that hotel guests are more than willing to conserve water and energy, simply by placing a card on their pillows or hanging their towels. Our hunch is that they’ll also take action to be part of the fight to cut wasted food.

Recognizing the industry-transforming potential of comprehensive, systemic food waste reduction across all hotel food service operations, WWF and the AHLA have joined forces to test – at key hotel properties – promising new strategies to reach this goal.

All participating hotels must separate and measure their wasted food, because experience has shown us that regular measurement of food waste can be the critical first step in reduction. Each of the pilot projects has been developed to tackle a weak link in the food waste supply chain – one pilot will educate kitchen and service employees on the impacts and drivers of wasted food, another will engage hotel chefs to design low-waste menus, and a third will prototype new buffet designs and service models to prevent wholesome excess food from being tossed in the bin.

Tackling the problem of food waste is going to take more than just efforts in the hospitality sector. We need innovative solutions across corporate sectors and extending into our homes, and we’ve partnered with Arabella Advisor’s Good Food Practice to do just that – by assembling and disseminating ideas from industry leaders, engineers, and food waste experts. The resulting report, Reducing Food Waste by Changing the Way Consumers Interact with Food, highlights ways we can rethink retail grocery, reimagine packaging, and redesign home kitchens to minimize wasted food. Solutions range from using atmosphere-adjusted technology to extend the shelf life of packaged produce, to developing in-store fixtures that effectively merchandise grocery products in lower volumes, to introducing food waste prevention standards into green building certification programs.

Some of these ideas and solutions are ready to be scaled up. Others require more development and testing. But the moment is ripe for this systemic approach, which is needed if we’re going to cut food waste in half – a target shared by the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, the U.S. government, and our own YieldWise initiative.

Everything is on the table, and everyone has a place to contribute. And if we work together, we can save precious resources, save money, and most importantly, save food.

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