Discarded food accounts for a quarter of all household waste in California. And it’s not just individuals: when you add in food dumped by restaurants, supermarkets, and other food service companies, that adds up to more than six million tons of food dumped annually. For the entire country, that number is closer to fourteen billion.
Meanwhile, about 30 million Americans risk going hungry.
We know we need to reduce the amount of waste going into our landfills. So how can people, restaurants, and grocers throw out edible food, especially while so many people go hungry?
You can decrease the amount of food waste in your house by buying only what you’ll eat for the week, and not stocking up on perishable foods. When you do have food waste, compost. This will dispose of your food and nourish your garden.
Many grocery chains and restaurants are worried about liabilities — but a federal law, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996, greatly minimizes liability when donations are made in good faith. Sometimes they throw out food purely for cosmetic reasons, like bruises and bumps on produce. Donating these foods is an easy, no-cost way to help people and the planet.
One former supermarket employee says, “I had to throw out 10-pound hams that weren’t even touched. It was easily 50 pounds of food a night.” Some people have taken to searching grocery and restaurant dumpsters for usable, free food. The freegan movement may still be seen as extreme, but it makes a point: at least a portion of the discarded food is edible and safe. And although many food retailers might participate in hunger-relief programs, like food drives, they’re still wasting tons of good food.
In California, less than 1,000 of the state’s 90,000 restaurants donate to Food Donation Connection, the organization that partners with the National Restaurant Association to link restaurants and food service establishments with surplus food, to hunger relief agencies. Chipotle, Olive Garden, and The Cheesecake Factory are among the restaurants who have partnered with Food Donation Connection’s Harvest Program.
Donating usable excess food, rather than adding to America’s massive land fills, would be an easy way to have a tremendous impact on our environment and help the hungry. There’s no excuse for good food going to waste, especially considering donations made in good faith are protected by the law.
Please sign this petition asking the Food Industry Association Executives to encourage all food retailers to donate — not dump — usable food, thus helping people and the environment.
photo credit: istock