Guide for Hiring a City Food Waste Coordinator

Resource
February 28, 2020

iStock

As more U.S. cities prioritize efforts to eliminate food waste and food insecurity, city agencies are allocating staff time and resources to enforce their food waste reduction strategies.

With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, Food Matters model cities Denver and Baltimore each hired a new city staff person dedicated to working on food waste reduction for two years. Coordinating with key personnel from different agencies and departments like public works, solid waste, sustainability, and public health, these dedicated staffers added significant capacity and greatly helped the cities move toward their food waste reduction goals.

This guide provides best practices for creating a city staff position dedicated to food waste reduction as well as cross-agency collaboration, work planning, and identifying potential sources of funding. It also offers example job descriptions from Denver and Baltimore. When planning the position, also check out the Quick Guide on Creating a City Food Waste Work Plan—one of your new staffer’s first orders of business.

Jump to Section

Where to Place the Food Waste Coordinator

Cities face different needs regarding where to embed a dedicated food waste staff person. In determining which agency or team should house the new position, it is important to evaluate departmental plans or goals that could make the case for a new position. For example, if the city wants to implement strategies related to large-scale food scrap recycling, the bureau of solid waste may be the best place to house the staffer. If it’s important to get the support of the mayor or fold the food waste initiative into a broader sustainability or resiliency plan, city hall or the office of sustainability may be a more appropriate location. Management capacity and leadership buy-in are also important considerations in deciding where to place the new coordinator. Finally, cities can explore splitting the position’s time across two agencies. Regardless of where the dedicated person sits, the hiring agency should make sure he or she is empowered to work across departments, both facilitating connections and supporting active and dynamic ties.

In Denver and Baltimore, the new food waste position was created to help advance the cities’ food and waste goals. In 2018 Denver’s Department of Public Health and Environment released its Denver Food Vision and Denver Food Action Plan, which set strategic long-, medium-, and short-term goals related to the local and regional food system, including food waste reduction goals. That same year, Baltimore released its Baltimore Food Waste Recovery Strategy and an updated Sustainability Plan. These plans, laying out goals related to climate action, sustainability, solid waste management, equity and inclusion, and community engagement, provided critical direction and guidance to the new dedicated staffers.

Cross-Agency Collaboration

The first step in creating a new position is to convene city staff and leaders across the relevant agencies and departments to determine the agencies’ goals and needs around food waste strategies. Working across agencies from the beginning can help get citywide support and ensure the new coordinator is as effective as possible. Involved city entities could include, but are not limited to:

  • Solid waste management or public works, to assist in driving action on organics recycling
  • Sustainability, climate change, or resiliency personnel, to assist in linking food waste strategies to the city’s broader climate goals
  • The city council and/or the mayor’s office, to think through policy and elected official buy-in
  • Public and environmental health departments, to include partners in health inspections, other food systems projects, and community health
  • Economic development and business engagement programs, to encourage support in the business sector and other sectors such as institutions and industry leaders
  • Food policy councils, to assist in policy recommendations and community engagement
  • Human services, to assist in food rescue and food insecurity strategies

Convening personnel from different agencies to determine where the new staff position will live is also helpful in forming a multiagency team focused on food waste reduction, a tactic critical to successes in the Food Matters project. For example, in Denver, staff from solid waste management and the green business certification program formed a natural partnership on the South Pearl Restaurant Food Waste Pilot. The Denver Recycles program provided funding and composting support, while Certifiably Green Denver ran and developed the pilot. NRDC recommends, to the extent possible, that every city interested in developing food waste reduction strategies form an interagency team that meets regularly.

The amount of time required from existing city personnel can vary. In Baltimore, staff from the multiagency team hold a weekly hourlong call, with additional, intermittent meetings when necessary, such as ahead of an event or project launch. Of course, the food waste coordinator’s manager will need to make a bigger time commitment than other staffers on the interagency team.

Writing the Job Description

There are several key factors to consider in developing a job description that will attract the right candidate for the job. To see an example, take a look at the job post for the Food Matters Technical Advisor position created in Baltimore. Here is a list of helpful tips and best practices:

Carefully consider the position level

The position should be at the appropriate level among other employees in the city department or agency. The work will require buy-in across the city, so it is important that the new staffer be set up to do that with the right title.

Emphasize the prevention/rescue/recycle hierarchy

It is important that the person in this position be able to implement solutions that span the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s hierarchy and not be focused solely on food scrap recycling. Emphasize the importance of experience in food waste prevention and food rescue in the job description. Does the candidate have a background in data analysis and business engagement? These skills could be helpful in creating cross-cutting reduction strategies.

To avoid focusing too heavily on food scrap recycling, consider including reduction or prevention in the job title. For example:

  • Food Waste Reduction Program Administrator
  • Coordinator of Food Waste Prevention

Look for experience and background

In order to build viable citywide solutions for food waste, prioritize candidates with a background in food and/or urban policy, in addition to:

  • experience working within municipal government on policy related to environment, equity, or public health;
  • a background related to city-level food systems and waste management, both systemic and operational;
  • prior involvement in community engagement, with a deep understanding of socioeconomic and cultural factors related to local communities.

Frequently, when cities have adopted food waste plans, resident groups, leadership across agencies, conference audiences, businesses, media, and other groups are eager to learn about steps the city is taking. It is essential that the staffer have exceptional speaking and presentation skills and ability to easily adapt messaging to diverse audiences.

Promote cross-agency collaboration

The role should call for a balance of leadership, collaboration, and communication skills since the new hire will work across several teams and interface with key influencers and decision makers within city government, the waste sector, food waste generators, and other organizations in the community. The ideal candidate should have experience managing a complex project and coordinating tasks across departments.

Use a work plan to define position responsibilities

In order to build a holistic and comprehensive strategy on food waste, create a detailed work plan to guide the short-, medium-, and long-term responsibilities of the staffer. After the work plan helps to clarify what experience the ideal candidate should have, the new hire can use it to outline day-to-day responsibilities and goals. If the work plan has not already been developed by the time of hiring, it should be the new hire’s first priority to lead a collaborative work plan development process.

Recognize local knowledge and equity

Since the hiree will spend significant time engaging with community members and businesses, prioritize hiring locally. This makes it more likely that the staff person will understand the unique conditions of the city and its communities; he or she may also have existing knowledge of or relationships with community organizations, businesses, and other partners.

Research the demographics of the city and consider populations, individuals, and communities that are most impacted by the problems of food waste and food insecurity. Pursue candidates with language proficiency and cultural competence that is relevant to those communities.

Quick Tips for Funding a New Position

As anyone who works for a city knows, it can be hard to find the funding for new staff. Ideally, money for this position could be included in the general fund or annual budget. City food, waste, and sustainability plans and goals can help to make the case for a new position as well as showcase the need for capacity on this issue across agencies.

There may be other state- or federally funded programs or initiatives that dovetail with food waste objectives enough to allow you to build a staff person into an existing program. For example, is there a healthy food initiative with funding in your city’s health department? Perhaps there are resources earmarked for clean waterways that could be channeled toward zero-food-waste initiatives. Or even green and blue infrastructure support including public works projects that could make use of compost as a sub-base. Look for an opportunity for an existing initiative to benefit from (and justify) the placement of someone dedicated to food waste, given that the beneficial outcomes can potentially serve a number of agency objectives and interrelated (or loosely connected) policy goals.

If general funding is not available, see if there is philanthropic funding available at the local, regional, state, or federal level. Additionally, explore whether there are nonprofit partners you could collaborate with to support this kind of position. For example, in Nashville, Urban Green Lab, a local nonprofit, is working closely with the city on food waste reduction.

Other Tools and Feedback

We hope that this guide provides helpful tools and tips to get started on creating a food waste position and hiring the right candidate for the job. Also look at some of the other NRDC Food Matters tools referenced throughout the guide and the Quick Tips for Creating a City Food Waste Work Plan blog.

We welcome your input on this guide. If you have any feedback or suggestions, please email foodmatters@nrdc.org.