The food we leave on our plates, that we let linger on our shelves too long, that stores and restaurants toss, and that farmers leave in fields negatively affects our health, our economy, and our environment. These on-the-ground solutions are springboards to a more resilient and productive food system.
American consumers and businesses send 52 million tons of food to landfills every year, adding up to $218 billion worth of food and comprising up to 1.3 percent of the country’s GDP. Producing food that then goes to waste unnecessarily depletes US farmlands and rivers, causing serious harm to the environment. Meanwhile, 42 million Americans experience food insecurity. To address this issue, Arabella Advisors identified transformational opportunities and implementation requirements to accelerate food waste reduction. As part of this work, we’ve highlighted five ways that funders, advocates, and business leaders who are interested in hunger, nutrition, agriculture, economic development, or sustainability can help create a food system that more efficiently and effectively distributes food and that preserves our land, water, and other natural resources.
These intervention areas build on the substantial work already underway to reduce food waste, such as that of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, and the ReFED coalition. Arabella built on ReFED’s March 2016 report by interviewing over 100 experts, including those outside the food waste field—hearing from those across the food industry as well as consumers, investors, funders, academics, culinarians, and environmentalists. The resulting report—commissioned by the New Venture Fund with support from the Rockefeller Foundation’s YieldWise initiative—explores how we can drastically reduce food waste on a broad scale by implementing the ideas below:
- Rethinking food retail: Grocery experts indicate that innovations in grocery stores and the systems that support them have great potential to decrease the amount of wasted food. We have identified actionable interventions related to procurement, transportation, store infrastructure, storage and handling, merchandising, customer education, and industry standards.
- Advances in food packaging: Existing and future innovation in packaging material and function can reduce food waste from farm to fork, especially the 66 percent of food waste generated in grocery stores and homes. Promising interventions in this area include developing packaging materials that increase flexibility in portion sizes and extend the life of the product while reducing plastic in landfills.
- Designing home kitchens with food waste in mind: In-home waste accounts for over half of all food waste in the United States. We could achieve outsized impact by implementing changes to refrigerator, cabinet, shelving, and storage container designs that help consumers see and remember to eat food before it spoils, preserve food longer with more effective temperature control, and streamline waste management.
- Initiatives in culinary schools and restaurant kitchens: Educating and training chefs on food waste reduction could go a long way toward curbing the waste generated by the restaurant, food service, and hospitality industries, which makes up 32 percent of total food waste. These efforts would also equip culinarians to improve their bottom lines.
- Right-sizing anaerobic digestion systems: Anaerobic digesters (ADs)—machines that convert organic material to biogas—are a profitable diversion method for food waste. Networks of small-scale ADs are relatively low cost and allow for flexibility in waste management systems on the municipal level.
Our work in this area is ongoing, and later this year we will release a set of guides that highlight interventions that are ready for testing and scaling. We welcome your thoughts and encourage you to join the food waste movement.
Eric Kessler is the founder and senior managing director of Arabella Advisors. For over a decade, he has helped Arabella’s clients achieve their philanthropic goals by designing grant-making strategies, mounting advocacy campaigns, evaluating impact, increasing operational efficiency, and building impact investing portfolios. Eric now leads Arabella’s Good Food practice.