Food Waste at the Food bank
I volunteered at the Food Bank of Delaware recently. The job was simple enough; sort through boxes of donations, categorize and repackage them, and put them on pallets to be moved into the warehouse. It was pretty straightforward. I was amazed at the amount of donations the food bank receives. What was even more shocking was the proportion of those donations that the food bank has to throw away.
While we were sorting, we had to scan the donations for nutritional labels, as well as expiration dates. The FDA provides the food bank with comprehensive information on how long after the expiration date they can use the donations. These time periods varied from 2–3 weeks to 2–3 years. Most of the items fell into the category of 3–12 months, give or take. I was alarmed, however, at the amount of food that was years past the expiration date. There was a shopping cart designated for all items that were unacceptable, due to defect, expiration or otherwise. We filled three shopping carts with expired and damaged food, all of which went directly into the dumpster.
While I understand that likely all of this food was probably donated in good faith without thought of the expiration date, it was still disheartening to see all of that donated food go to waste. Food waste is a significant issue to begin with. That it was food donated to feed those in need makes it even more egregious.
Keeping all of that in mind, my proposition calls both individuals and businesses (like grocery stores) to be more aware of their food waste, and donate in a timely fashion to avoid their charity being wasted. This will help with the much larger societal and global issue of food waste. According to Paul Hawken (who just authored a new book proposing 100 ways to solve climate change), food waste ranks as the number 3(!) solution. Only Wind turbines and refrigeration ranked higher. The basic stats behind this theory relate to saved gigatons in direct emissions. Hawken claims that reducing food waste by 50% by 2050 could save 26.2 gigatons in direct emissions. He also claims that 44.4 more gigatons would be saved via reduced deforestation thanks to less pressure of agriculture. (https://www.treehugger.com/green-food/beer-recycled-bread-coming-soon-usa.html)
Taking this call to action one step further, I am calling on food providers and food service organizations to donate directly to those in need rather than always go through a third party. This would cut out unnecessary steps in the process of getting hungry people the food they need. This does not come without challenges, however. Most of these challenges are legal more so than practical. Most states require by law food be distributed through a food recovery organization (such as the foodbank). This largely is to evade potential liability issues if donated food ends up causing sickness or some other malady. While this is important to consider, there are instances throughout the US that offer some insight into how policies allowing for direct donation would work. This Harvard study is an excellent tool for delving into how this could come about practically: (http://www.endhunger.org/PDFs/2016/Harvard_FoodWaste_Toolkit_Oct2016.pdf)
Regardless of the legal challenges, the sentiment is still the same. Whether the solution is direct donations, or more timely and thoughtful donations to food recovery organizations, the amount of food simply wasted is appalling and needs to be addressed. The food bank does amazing philanthropic work, and they are an important part of many people’s lives. I only aim to make it even more organized and efficient.