Helping Cities Cut Food Waste: NRDC Tools Accelerate Municipal Efforts

NEW YORK – As cities move toward zero waste and reigning in their climate emissions, a new resource for municipal leaders makes it easier to tackle food waste. The NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) Food Matters project, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, has released a compendium of templates, case studies, and guides for cities to achieve meaningful reductions in food waste. Successes achieved in Baltimore and Denver through the Food Matters project are teeing up solutions that can be replicated across the country with assistance from Food Matters’ actionable tools and guides.

“Cities are uniquely positioned to lead the fight against food waste, which represents a massive source of climate pollution and a sizeable component of city budgets,” said Elizabeth Balkan, Director of Food Waste at NRDC. “These tool kits will help city leaders take from the lessons learned and build upon the amazing results seen in our model cities and broader network of municipal partners.”

In 2017, NRDC released Food Matters original research that looked at what Americans waste and how to expand the amount of food rescued in three major U.S. cities—Denver, Nashville, and New York City. In tandem, NRDC released a guide to policies and programs outlining ten strategies for city policymakers and agency staff to curb food waste in their city. Since then, NRDC has been working with Baltimore and continuing engagement in Denver and Nashville, to model what can be achieved when a city concentrates their efforts on driving down food waste. Food Matters has brought the successes from these model cities to an even broader network of more than 40 cities, to drive dramatic, system-wide food waste reduction. 

The compendium of resources, the most comprehensive of its kind, includes actionable guides and plug-and-play templates case studies of local examples to help cities achieve the strategies outlined in the Policy and Program Toolkit. This body of work builds on the extensive research and experience NRDC has working with cities on food waste and is specifically designed to guide cities through the entire process from public commitment and strategy development, to quantifying a baseline estimate of how much food waste is being generated, and how to engage local businesses, health inspectors and food rescue organizations.

America throws out more than 400 pounds of food per person per year. For a total loss of $218 billion – or about $1800 per year on average for a family of four. And when that food is wasted, so are the resources that go into producing it, including 21 percent of the freshwater used by the U.S. agricultural industry, tons of pounds of agricultural chemicals, and vast areas of cropland. Wasted food also generates climate change pollution equivalent to 37 million cars per year.

The Food Matters Program and Policy Toolkit is designed for city policymakers and agency staff nationwide who are seeking to advance a program or implement policies to prevent food from becoming waste, increase donation of surplus food, and recycle food scraps. Alongside the toolkit is a curated set of guides to tackle food waste at the local level which have proven successful in NRDC’s work with Food Matters cities. The toolkit and templates are designed to meet cities at different stages of their food waste journey, providing users with practical resources to take both incremental steps towards city-wide change as well as bold accelerated strategies.

"The global pandemic has highlighted the importance of minimizing food waste and ensuring access to nutritious food for all, because diet-related diseases are linked to far higher risks of hospitalization, critical illness, and death from COVID-19. It is inspiring to see how cities, including Baltimore and Denver, are initiating a host of programs that prioritize food waste prevention," said Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation. "We have been thrilled to see how our funding of technical assistance for NRDC has had a cascading effect on cities and organizations across the U.S. dedicated to improving sustainability and access to nutritious food, especially for minority communities."


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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