Waste to Wealth: Baltimore Takes the Lead on Food Waste

Across the nation, families are wondering how they will put food on the table and find enough work to cover their mortgage. Meanwhile, city governments face ever-dwindling federal-level nutritional assistance and environmental safeguards. Even the existence of municipal recycling programs—long a hallmark American fixture—is being challenged by fluctuating geopolitical conditions.

The critical environmental and public health issues of our time cannot be separated from the economic and political realities at play. Amidst uncertainties at the national level, cities and states across the country are stepping up. These communities are the hubs of progress and beacons of hope.

Nationwide, cities are seeking game-changing strategies to improve quality of life and achieve equitable outcomes. Few issues are more fundamental to how we live than the food we eat.

And, at the city level, addressing food waste—which in the US presently accounts for up to 40% of all food produced annually—can help alleviate food insecurity, reduce our carbon footprint, and promote stable, cost-effective and sustainable waste management. 

Last fall, NRDC, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, released a pair of Food Matters reports that looked at food waste and food rescue potential in three major US cities. The study found that in these three cities, more than two-thirds of all food discarded in people’s homes was potentially edible, and up to 68 million additional meals annually could potentially be donated to people in need in these communities.

Today, we’re delighted to announce a new partnership with the city of Baltimore, in support of a bold initiative to reduce food waste and promote local composting capacity. As part of that effort, Baltimore has set a target goal to reduce commercial food waste in Baltimore City by 50 percent and residential food waste by 80 percent by 2040, and released a Food Waste Recovery Strategy which sets forth a path, with NRDC and Rockefeller Foundation support, to:

  • Reduce the amount of food lost or discarded by residents and local businesses,
  • Boost food donation citywide, and
  • Expand community and commercial composting of food scraps.

This strategy promotes the health and wellbeing of Baltimore’s residents, while promoting economic vibrancy. Reducing the amount of food sent to landfill will not only help more families make ends meet, but can also enhance regional economic development. According to research conducted in Maryland by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in 2013, composting sustains twice as many jobs as landfilling and four times as many jobs as incineration.

Baltimore joins Denver in partnering with NRDC and The Rockefeller Foundation as part of the Food Matters project, which aims to work with cities around the country to tackle food waste at the local level.

At next week’s Global Climate Action Summit, NRDC and other environmental organizations will bring together government, corporate and philanthropic leaders at an official side event highlighting the immediate opportunity to address climate change through sub-national food waste action. Speakers will include a handful of mayors of cities from around the world—from Vancouver to Milan. We look forward to sharing with the international climate community the steps that leaders, like Denver and Baltimore, and the growing network of Food Matters cities, are taking to bend the food waste-output curve, and bring about more sustainable, equitable and thriving communities.

About the Authors

Elizabeth Balkan

Director, Food Waste; Food & Agriculture Program

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