Tackling Food Waste, Nashville-Style

In 2015, NRDC launched the Nashville Food Waste Initiative (NFWI) to develop high-impact policies, strategies, and practical tools to address food waste at the city level. As a midsize, demographically diverse metropolis in the center of the country, Nashville can serve as a model for other cities.

NFWI’s goal is to engage governments, consumers, restaurants, community institutions, and retailers to prevent food waste, rescue surplus food to direct to people in need, and compost and digest what’s left to help build healthy soil. We are connecting people from across the community to leverage the impactful initiatives already underway and to identify and implement new approaches. NFWI shares Nashville’s success stories nationally so that they can be replicated by cities throughout the country.

Local leadership of the initiative is spearheaded by Urban Green Lab, a Nashville-based nonprofit that teaches communities how to live sustainably through innovative programming in local classrooms, households, and workplaces.

Examples of Nashville Food Waste Initiative projects

Prevention of Wasted Food

  • NRDC’s Save the Food campaign is the first-ever national consumer campaign to reduce food waste. Creative materials from Save the Food are being disseminated widely nationwide and in Nashville, including on billboards and in buses, university dining halls, and concession stands in professional sports arenas.
  • NFWI collaborated with the Mayor’s Office, Nashville Originals and The Greater Nashville Hospitality Association on a Food Saver Challenge for the hospitality sector. To participate, businesses implement measures to prevent food waste, rescue surplus food, and/or recycle food scraps—and report on their progress. There is also a separate Mayor’s Challenge for food retailers.
  • NRDC conducted a baseline food waste assessment to estimate the amounts, sources, and types of food wasted in Nashville’s residential and commercial sectors (as well as in two other cities). NRDC also assessed household food waste through kitchen diaries and consumer surveys to gain a better understanding of the underlying causes of residential food waste.
  • NFWI has cohosted several panel discussions, as well as screenings of groundbreaking documentaries such as Wasted! The Story of Food Waste and Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story, at the Adventure Science Center, Vanderbilt University, Green Door Gourmet farm, and other locations. NFWI has also partnered with several local nonprofits to bolster their food waste-related programs.

Rescue of Surplus Food

  • NRDC assessed what portion of food currently discarded by Nashville businesses is potentially available and appropriate for rescue. The analysis quantified the scale of potential food donation in Nashville and set the stage for dialogue and actions to expand food donation and deepen food rescue capacity.
  • Guided by research on the key barriers and opportunities for prepared food donation in Nashville, NFWI worked to help match potential surplus food donors with hunger relief nonprofits. NFWI has also educated businesses about federal and state liability protection and the enhanced federal tax deduction for food donation.
  • NFWI collaborated with Metro Nashville’s Public Health Department to develop food donation guidance and share it with regulated food facilities.

Recycling of Food Scraps

  • NFWI served on Metro Nashville’s Solid Waste Master Plan Task Force, which advised the city on the development of its long-range plan to achieve zero waste to landfills through organics recycling and other measures. The Solid Waste Master Plan was released in October 2019 and includes several strategies related to food waste.
  • NFWI conducted research on barriers and opportunities for expanding local food scrap recycling infrastructure and increasing the amount of food scraps recycled by businesses, as well as research on opportunities for expanding community composting.

More Information

Nashville’s citizens, businesses, and government can help reduce food waste. For more information, please contact Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist, NRDC, dhoover@nrdc.org; Linda Breggin, project coordinator, Nashville Food Waste Initiative, breggin@eli.org; or Todd Lawrence, executive director, Urban Green Lab, todd@urbangreenlab.org. Additional resources from NFWI are also available at https://urbangreenlab.org/nashville-food-waste-initiative/.

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