Tackling Food Waste at the City Level: The Nashville Food Waste Initiative

Forty percent of the food we produce in the U.S. goes uneaten. That means all the water, energy, agricultural chemicals, labor, and other resources we put into growing, distributing, selling, and consuming food get wasted too. The value of the food wasted in the U.S. each year is at least $162 billion, with most waste occurring among consumers, restaurants, grocery stores and institutional foodservice. Also, 95% of the food we dispose of ends up in the landfill, where it emits methane and contributes to global warming. If we could reduce our food waste by just 30% and distribute the food effectively, we could meet the needs of all 50 million food-insecure Americans every day of the year. For these reasons, the federal government recently set a national goal of reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2030.

Fortunately, this is a problem we can solve: we can engage consumers, restaurants, community institutions, and retailers to reduce and prevent food waste, to recover food to feed hungry people, and to compost what's left to help build healthy soil. NRDC is at the forefront of efforts to identify, quantify and develop solutions to the nation's food waste challenge. NRDC's approach to solving the food waste problem includes strategies to prevent, recover, and recycle food waste at key points along the supply chain, such as farms, restaurants and households. While NRDC is working to change national-level policies, it also recognizes that much of the work must occur at the local level. In particular, we see an opportunity to work with municipalities to adopt holistic frameworks to reduce the amount of food that is wasted and landfilled (and the associated environmental impacts), and redirect surplus food to people in need.

NRDC has already begun to partner with stakeholders in Nashville, Tennessee to pilot some of these approaches. Our Nashville Food Waste Initiative is building on the good work that's already being done in the city, bringing together people from across the community to document great initiatives already underway, identify new approaches to reducing the amount of food that goes to waste, and direct more surplus food to people in need. NRDC's goal is to work with Nashville's mayor, stakeholder groups, and others to identify effective approaches that can serve as models for cities across the country.

NRDC's work in Nashville is now ramping up. We kicked it off in the fall of 2015 with the local premiere of the award-winning documentary film, Just Eat It!. A February 24, 2016 stakeholder meeting, attended by close to 80 people, helped identify local opportunities and challenges for tackling food waste in Nashville head on.

Initiatives already underway include efforts to expand donation of surplus food to people in need though the Zero Percent app and ramped up food rescue efforts by the Nashville Food Project. The Zero Percent app greatly facilitates the ability of restaurants and other food service businesses to donate prepared foods to non-profit groups in a timely manner. In addition, a local nonprofit, Recap, is moving forward with the siting and development of an anaerobic digester that will be able to supplement the local composting infrastructure by processing food waste to capture energy and produce a valuable soil amendment. NRDC also will soon begin working with select businesses to prevent food waste and reduce food costs in foodservice environments through the innovative LeanPath software.

Public education is a key component of our food waste reduction approach, and NRDC has partnered with the Ad Council (the non-profit arm of the U.S. advertising industry that has produced iconic campaigns such as Smokey Bear and Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk) to launch a nationwide public service campaign to reduce food waste. This campaign is due to launch in April 2016, with an introductory webinar being held on Thursday, April 28, 2016 from noon to 1:00 Central. This webinar will give a sneak preview of the campaign and highlight materials that will be made available to cities, retailers, and other entities interested in participating in the campaign.

In the U.S., we waste enough food to fill a 90,000 seat stadium every day.

The average family throws out about $1500 of food per year. That's like throwing out one in every four bags of groceries you buy.

The average person wastes 20 pounds of food per month.

If food waste around the world was a country, it would rank third behind China and the U.S. in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

This is something we can change - everyone has a role to play in reducing food waste, including citizens, companies, countries - and cities. For more information on the Nashville Food Waste Initiative, contact Linda Breggin, Project Coordinator, Nashville Food Waste Initiative, or Darby Hoover or JoAnne Berkenkamp at NRDC.

About the Authors

Darby Hoover

Senior Resource Specialist, Food & Agriculture program

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