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The Green Life: Feeding the Hungry, Not the Landfill

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September 28, 2011

Feeding the Hungry, Not the Landfill

Food waste Though dumpster divers may not be especially happy about the news, there’s a push by the food industry to reduce the amount of food that ends up in the trash. While many divers rely on people dumping grub in the garbage, there are likely some who will be glad to see less food go to waste.

In addition to trying to reduce waste, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents food, beverage, and consumer products companies, is making a concerted effort, along with the Food Marketing Institute, to see that more of its products make their way to food banks.

But don’t expect major changes anytime soon. This three-year initiative, officially called “Food Waste Opportunities and Challenges,” will first conduct surveys, look at successful public-policy programs, and finally try to find technological solutions (whatever that means) to the industry’s two main goals. For some ideas, the leadership of this initiative may want to look at what San Francisco is doing to reduce food waste.

Thanks in part to perhaps the toughest composting and recycling law in the country, in San Francisco more than 600,000 tons of compost is diverted from the landfill and sent to its composting facility. And yet, according to the city’s environment department, “compostable food and paper products still make up more than 36 percent of the material that San Francisco sends to landfill.” The city has the admirable, albeit ambitious, goal of having zero waste by the year 2020.

A recent New York Times blog post cites a study done several years ago by the Department of Agriculture, which concluded that “about 10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.”

According to the San Francisco Food Bank, nearly 200,000 residents of the city struggle every day to put meals on the table. And in 2009, 50 million Americans (about 16 percent of the population) were living with food insecurity, according to Feeding America, a national organization dedicated to fighting hunger.

--Josh Marx

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