Food Matters: Empowering Cities to Tackle Food Waste

February 11, 2019

Up to 40 percent of all food in the United States is wasted. Just producing that food swallows up roughly 20 percent of America’s cropland, fertilizers, and agricultural water. Throughout its production, distribution, and ultimate demise in a landfill, food waste generates greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the output of 37 million passenger vehicles each year. And yet, 40 million Americans lack consistent access to adequate and nutritious food.

Why Cities Are Key to Tackling Food Waste

Often, cities can more nimbly develop policies and programs than state and federal governments. They typically also have direct regulatory control over solid waste and many public health issues that dovetail with food waste. By reducing wasted food, cities can stabilize municipal waste management costs and meet climate and sustainability goals. By rescuing surplus, cities can address food gaps in local communities. And by recycling food scraps, cities can minimize what ends up in landfills.

NRDC’s Food Matters initiative partners with cities to strive toward a 15 percent reduction in food waste within five years through a comprehensive set of policies and programs.

Why NRDC Is Uniquely Positioned to Help Cities Implement Food Waste Solutions

Through our 2017 analyses in Denver, Nashville, and New York City, NRDC designed and tested tools to help municipalities establish baseline estimates of how much food is wasted. We also developed a model to estimate how much surplus food could potentially be rescued and redirected to people in need.


Food Matters: What We Waste and How We Can Expand the Amount of Food We Rescue

This first phase of reports and case studies developed by NRDC examines the role cities can play in reducing the amount of food going to waste.

Our tools and methodologies, now being used by more than a dozen U.S. municipalities, help cities overcome a critical barrier: insufficient data on what, where, and why food is wasted, and how heightened attention to food rescue can address unmet needs for food in local communities. The deep technical expertise provided by Food Matters helps them translate the analysis it provides into high-impact, cost-effective projects and policies.

How We Are Creating Proven, Replicable, and Scalable Models

NRDC has developed a suite of policies and programs, backed by well-honed business cases, to stem food waste at the municipal level. Using these solutions, we are working with city agencies and local partners in Denver and Baltimore to drive dramatic, innovative, and system-wide food waste reduction. With our ever-expanding network of partner cities, we will evaluate, replicate, and scale these solutions across the country—sharing learnings and exploring new strategies with that cohort.

Our Food Matters initiative builds upon our deep involvement in other cities including Nashville and New York City. The success of Food Matters will catalyze meaningful progress in Baltimore and Denver, the creation of replicable city-based models, and the market-supported standardization of best practices.