Memphis & Pittsburgh Make Proclamations to Reduce Food Waste

The US has committed to halving food waste by 2030. This 50 percent reduction is also one of the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals aimed at building a more livable world for all people. At the local level, some cities participating in the Food Matters Regional Initiative are also making public commitments to reduce food waste, and building leadership, credibility, and community buy-in throughout the process. Two cities in the Food Matters Regional Initiative have recently made such public commitments: the City of Pittsburgh (PA) and the City of Memphis (TN).

Downtown Memphis | Photo: dosecreative

The Food Matters Regional Initiative launched in June 2020 to address municipal food waste while leveraging regional synergies. It includes cohorts of five cities each in the Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast regions. Prior to launching the Regional Initiative, we worked closely with Nashville, Denver, and Baltimore to implement food waste reduction strategies and develop a suite of tools to help other cities implement similar solutions. Through our experience, we found that when cities made a public commitment, whether that was a mayoral proclamation or establishing zero waste goals in sustainability plans, the work was catalyzed through stakeholder buy-in and media attention. Publicly stating goals and plans to reduce food waste is an important way to harness city leadership and build constituent support. It also documents ambitious goals, increases accountability, and can inspire other cities. As part of the Food Matters toolbox, we created a guide to help local governments make a public commitment to reducing food waste.

Downtown Pittsburgh | Photo: Vidar Nordli Mathisen

The City of Pittsburgh launched the third edition of their Climate Action Plan in 2018. A core goal of the Plan is to achieve zero waste city-wide by 2030. Food is the most prevalent material in US landfills at 24% by weight, according to the most recent EPA data. For cities to reach their zero waste goals, preventing food waste, rescuing surplus food, and recycling food scraps destined for the landfill are essential. In Pittsburgh, work to achieve this goal is being led by the city staff working on the Food Matters Initiative. In December 2020, they collaborated with the Mayor’s office to issue a proclamation, signed by Mayor Bill Peduto, declaring December “Food Matters Month.” Throughout the month, over ten city divisions and local partner organizations shared tips and resources about food waste reduction on social media. Shelly Danko+Day, Urban Agriculture and Food Policy Planner with the City of Pittsburgh, and Rebecca Bykoski, Senior Program Manager with Sustainable Pittsburgh, co-led the effort to develop the coordinated social media messaging plan. Each week had a theme, from “reuse” (using leftovers), “reduce” (meal planning) to “resolution” (resolve to waste less). Shelly explained the origins of the proclamation and messaging campaign:

“December is traditionally a food-focused month for most people, and with the pandemic, it was challenging to scale back to just what a family needs. We thought it would be a perfect opportunity to promote the Food Matters program, while helping people to plan for smaller gatherings, how to use leftovers, and encourage them to think more about what happens to food that is wasted.”

Shelly also highlighted how the process of drafting a proclamation and coordinating communications for the Food Matters Month allowed for the team to get buy-in from stakeholders, which they hope will translate into long-term support for the project.

The City of Memphis has similar zero waste goals in their Memphis Area Climate Action Plan and are working closely with the nonprofit Clean Memphis on the Memphis Food Waste Project. Janet Boscarino, Executive Director of Clean Memphis, and Heidi Rupke, Food Waste Specialist with Clean Memphis, are leading the project. They worked with Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland to issue a proclamation that aligns the city with the national goal of 50 percent food waste reduction by 2030. The proclamation declares that the city will work to develop a more sustainable food systems approach by following the guidelines of the EPA’s food recovery hierarchy to prevent food from going to waste, rescue surplus food, and recycle food scraps. Heidi says,

“As part of the Mississippi delta, Memphis has a rich food heritage. By committing publicly to reducing food waste, we can work toward more equitable distribution of current food resources and a food system that is more resilient to future changes and disruptions.”

The proclamation has led to increased media attention and more support for the work.

Making public commitments to food waste reduction helps solidify food waste work as part of the climate and sustainability agenda, and publicly stating this as a priority issue for the city helps to create buy-in from city agencies and staff and other communities that will be critical to advancing food waste reduction efforts. Public commitments can make the connections between food waste and climate resilience and help move actions up the chain to address larger food systems issues. Food Matters cities like Pittsburgh and Memphis are leading the way to halve food waste by 2030, and if we are going to achieve this goal, we will need even more public commitment and action. We look forward to more public commitments and action coming from cities through our Food Matters Initiative and beyond.  

If your city is interested in making a public commitment to food waste reduction, check out our guide.

About the Authors

Nina Sevilla

Program Assistant, Health & Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program
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Starting with the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, we are launching a Food Matters Regional Initiative, with the goal of furthering larger-scale change related to food waste at a regional level.

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