There's no doubt about it. This was an exciting year in the U.S. for us food waste geeks. And while we still don't have the measurement tools to demonstrate less food was actually wasted, there are a handful of ways to demarcate real progress was made in the U.S.
- First and foremost, the Federal Government has finally taken note of the issue and is starting to move. In September, the Obama Administration announced an ambitious target to cut food waste in half by 2030. In December, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree introduced the Food Recovery Act to Congress--a [recovered] soup to nuts bill with almost two dozen provisions to address the amount of food wasted across the economy. And right at the end of the year as part of the omnibus budget bill, Congress made significant improvements to the tax deductions available for food donations.
- Second, cutting food waste hit the restaurant scene. Spurred by Dan Barber's WastED pop-up restaurant in March, a host of new solutions to waste less food are being pursued by restaurants of all kinds. From SweetGreen's food scrap salad, to the United Nations fine dining lunch of trash, to bars finding ways to use up unused wine, chefs have found a new outlet to unleash creativity.
- Third, food waste hit a new level of mainstream. When an L.A. lawyer in her 60's, my 22 year old Tennessee cousin, and several old Connecticut high school friends wrote me about John Oliver's show dedicated entirely to food waste, I knew the issue had hit a new level of mainstream. Almost every major news publication has covered the issue in some way this year. "Ugly fruit and veg" became a thing. The clever and hilarious documentary Just Eat It, which highlights the issue through a couple's journey to eat nothing other than food that would otherwise have been wasted for six months, earned a landslide of awards across film festivals everywhere. And, the first-ever guide to wasting less food, Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook (by yours truly!) hit the shelves and sold out within two weeks.
Ironically, with all of this media, Johns Hopkins still found that most Americans believe they waste less than the average American. So, still some work to do there.
- Last but not least, entrepreneurs and innovation made some inroads. Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe's, opened his long awaited Daily Table store, selling excess nutritious food (that might otherwise have been wasted) at low cost in a lower income area of Boston. Imperfect Produce launched their cosmetically-imperfect produce box delivery service. General Electric announced an open-source refrigerator that might allow for some real innovation in fridge design. Feeding America received support from Google to create on online marketplace to enable more donation of excess food. And that's just the tip of the iceberg when you consider the range of new apps and other ideas that are now being pursued.
Exciting stuff all around! And we have lots more to look forward to in 2016--a year in which I expect the momentum around reducing food waste will only continue to build. Keep your eyes out for the ReFED report expected in March, NRDC and Ad Council's consumer-facing campaign launching in April, WRI's Food Loss and Waste Protocol also in April, and hopefully, a plan from the Feds as to how they're going to achieve those ambitious targets they set.
You might also consider getting on board with a New Year's resolution of your own. How much progress will you make on cutting your own food waste in 2016?