Join us for a month-long dialogue on food waste in April, 2014
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GLOBAL DIALOGUE ON FOOD WASTE
As one of the largest contributors to anthropogenic methane emissions, food waste is an environmental and economic issue. Even more, food waste becomes an ethical issue when one in eight people in our world do not have enough to eat.
Through four live online panels including some of the leading thinkers on food, waste and opportunity, we will explore small- and large-scale solutions for meeting a three-part goal of eliminating food waste, reducing hunger and radically decreasing the amount of organics in the waste stream. Hear about and share your own examples of turning food waste into resource.
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At be Waste Wise, we want to hear what is relevant and interesting for you. Based on your priorities and suggestions, we are bringing together some of the best food waste management experts, thought leaders and practitioners to discuss the following topics:
1. City-wide food composting programs
Long title: How to get city-wide composting programs to work in a cosmopolitan like New York City?
There are numerous challenges associated with the successful uptake of food waste composting programmes in urban settings, particularly those with large and ethnically diverse populations. Different governance structures between municipalities can not only present logistical complexities with rolling out such initiatives, but cultural and language barriers can hinder participation rates.
Composting can be carried out at various scales within a city – whether at household, community or commercial level, or a mix of all three. Identifying suitable areas for initial pilot work will be critical to determine the best approach for maximum impact and future scale up. Consideration must also be given to how incentives can be aligned so that strong citizen connections can be made between food waste reduction and the purchase of fresh produce, ideally grown from the resultant compost.
Within a city, the nature of the organic fraction can also vary between individual districts or boroughs – this can be dependent on income levels, cultural habits or commercial factors. Understanding these differences in waste composition will be important in terms of transforming the compost into a value commodity. Undertaking some product specification work on quality may prove helpful in this regard.
Longer term, successful schemes have the potential to significantly improve a city’s sustainability credentials through the reduction of waste transportation and landfill costs. They can also make a meaningful contribution to public health and better community living.
Please note this debate will explore New York City’s composting program in some depth as a case study example to see what lessons can be learnt and applied to other fast-moving urban environments.
- Let’s take a look what is happening in New York right now, it’s quite interesting. Last year the former Mayor Michael Bloomberg called food waste New York’s “final recycling frontier” – it is currently rolling out a city-wide food waste composting program, based on pilot work. A huge challenge, given its urban density, what prompted the authorities to undertake such an ambitious project?
- What have been your observations so far? Is the program working well?
- The city itself is very multi-cultural – I’d imagine this presents a daunting communications challenge. What factors need to be considered when embarking on such an engagement exercise?
- And what about collection logistics – what approach is best, kerbside pick-ups or community drop-off points? Should this be tailored to individual neighbourhoods?
- Should incentives be given to encourage better behaviour? For instance in Sweden, householders pay less if they choose to separate out their food waste.
- In New York, has there been any evidence yet that these pilots are changing people’s behaviours around food waste? How do you intend to assess this long-term?
- When cities are ready to scale up pilot work, it’s likely that a much greater level of co-ordination will be needed between the different municipalities and stakeholder groups. Which city authorities are best placed to facilitate this and monitor progress?
- Is there a clear business case yet for cities to undertake such initiatives? How do the economics sit alongside the environmental benefits?
2. Logistics of leftovers.
Longer title: Logistics of leftovers: driving better redistribution of edible food waste
Food redistribution is one of the best win-win solutions for food waste avoidance. Companies, charities and individuals can all benefit from the redistribution of surplus food to those who need it most – not just at the consumer level, but right back down the supply chain to the farms where crops are grown.
Given the global nature of our food supply chains, this throws up a massive cross-border logistical challenge. Farmers, producers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, charities and other industry bodies all need to play their part and work in a coordinated way to ensure effective redistribution from ‘farm to fork’ is achieved.
For this level of collaboration to work, several issues need to be addressed. Firstly, a lack of data and supply chain transparency makes it difficult to gauge precisely how much food is being wasted, and where. The requirement for robust measurement and reporting is paramount.
There is also the question of economics. From a cost standpoint, it can make more sense for businesses to send surplus food for animal feed, industrial use or energy recovery. The rise of corporate social value will play a role in mitigating this, but legislation may be necessary to ensure priorities are directed towards tackling hunger on a wider level.
Lastly, food is a perishable item – it comes with many health and safety implications. A significant amount of donated food ends up being discarded due to quality control issues relating to shelf life, sell by dates and damaged packaging. Greater third party intervention from redistribution organisations to identify surpluses that could be redistributed without impacting on food safety or brand integrity would be of benefit here.
- Let’s look at the bigger picture first – a lot of emphasis is given to the food that consumers throw away, but far bigger volumes are wasted further up the supply chain. Should we be refocusing our attention and efforts to take account of this?
- Food, mainly crops, that are wasted at farm level – what can be done here in terms of redistribution? Do we need to look more at preventing this waste occurring in the first place?
- There is obviously a big data challenge in pinpointing where this waste is occurring, and in what quantities – how can those stakeholders further up the supply chain (e.g food retailers) be encouraged to not only measure this wastage, but report on it?
- Moving up the supply chain, what market barriers are hindering the effective redistribution of edible food waste after it hits the shelves?
- How can we instill a greater sense of purpose among food retailers and food establishments to ‘do the right thing’ and donate their leftovers to the hungry and homeless?
- There are numerous logistical challenges in redistributing food, some are tied in with stringent requirements around food safety – this must present a legal minefield for businesses. Can redistribution charities play a role here in advising on such issues?
- Considering how much food is out there being wasted, do we have the logistical networks in place to support a rapid acceleration in donated volumes?
- In recent years, there has been an explosion of food banks popping up – is this an opportunity that food waste redistribution movement could capitalise on?
The topics were chosen based on a survey we conducted in March, 2014. The survey was prepared by Craig Dsouza and be Waste Wise.