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Saturday, May 17, 2014

How Connecticut fights food waste

By ecoRI News staff
cat animated GIFFood is an essential element of daily life — you would be hard-pressed to find a social setting where there isn’t food. 

It’s in restaurants and street-side stands, grocery stores and farmers markets, hospitals and office buildings, and of course, in our homes. But, did you know that food waste is a huge share of what we toss out every day? 

It amounts to 320,000 tons of waste annually in Connecticut alone.

Americans throw out as much as 20 pounds of food per person per month at a cost of more than $2,000 a year per household. A 2012 National Resources Defense Council report showed that food is wasted at every step along the way from farm to table — beginning in the fields with the harvesting process, then at both the packaging and retail levels, and finally from our plates.

Food waste is a concern for a number of reasons: economic, environmental and health. Throwing away food is misusing resources and wasting money; it impacts the bottom line of food businesses and is a significant item in everyone’s monthly budget. Throwing food in the trash contributes to harmful health effects, because it creates pollution, both on land and in the air, wastes fuel and water, and generates greenhouse gas emissions.

Fortunately, there are many ways we can reduce this waste. Restaurants, cafeterias and businesses that prepare or sell food can follow the 3Rs — reduce, reuse and recycle — starting with finding ways to reduce kitchen scrap and unused food. There are computerized food tracking systems such as LeanPath that focus on prevention. Food waste is measured daily and an analysis of why it was thrown away is provided — spoilage, trim waste and/or overproduction.

There will always be times, however, when too much has been prepared or there is more than can be sold. Donating unused food to local organizations that feed the hungry is an excellent reuse option. It not only helps those in need, but can be a tax benefit to your business.

The Federal Food Donation Act of 2008 protects against liability when donating to a nonprofit. In Connecticut, Community Plates is an example of a donation organization.

Recycling food waste is also better than putting it in the Dumpster. This includes composting it onsite or at a commercial facility. Three composting facilities in Connecticut are currently permitted to receive food scrap, and a few anaerobic digesters are expected to be proposed in the near future. A new state law requires certain commercial businesses, such as food wholesalers and supermarkets, to separate organic materials and ensure they are recycled; its intent is to spur development of more processing facilities where food scrap can be recycled.

Another food recycling option is to contact local animal farmers about taking scrap for animal feed.
At home we can cut down on food scrap by planning meals and making a shopping list before heading to the store, and by checking the fridge to assess what’s in there so you don’t buy more unnecessarily. Also “Sell-by” and “Use-by” dates are not an indicator of food safety, but rather of a manufacturer’s suggestion for peak quality.

Here is a look at what some Connecticut institutions are doing to lessen the amount of food scrap that is buried or burned:

Yale-New Haven Hospital and St. Rafael’s started donating food six months ago through Rock and Wrap It Up! More than 6,500 pounds of food, equaling 5,000 meals, have gone to feed the hungry at St. Anne’s Soup Kitchen, Community Soup Kitchen, Beth El Center and Christ Church. And, close to 5,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions have been eliminated.

The Connecticut Children’s Medical Center uses Aramark’s food tracking system. it has reduced the cost of produce by 18 percent through eliminating waste during kitchen preparation. Food waste is currently 8 percent of the total waste produced, with a goal of 4 percent for the future.

Mohegan Sun Casino has been sending food scrap to a local pig farm, and averages nearly 1,200 tons diverted annually.

Community Plates has “reused” 4.5 million pounds of food from 86 food donor restaurants, markets and farms. This food has gone to 50 receiving agencies — soup kitchens, food pantries and homeless shelters). Fairway Market in Stamford has donated 450,000 meals since September 2011.

This story originally appeared in the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection’s spring 2014 newsletter. Department headquarters has been composting some 6,000 pounds of food scrap annually from employee lunches and snacks onsite for the past decade.