ReFED Creates Two New Tools to Fight Food Waste in the US

Caption USDA

USDA volunteers harvest food for a local food bank during a gleaning event in Clinton, MD.

Two new tools that connect people to the work and policy of the larger food waste reduction movement have been released. The Food Waste Innovator Database and the Food Waste Policy Finder, which help map the food waste landscape, were just launched by ReFED, a nonprofit that pulls together a coalition devoted to reducing food waste throughout the United States.

The Innovator Database highlights the many pioneering food waste solutions currently being deployed, while the Policy Finder features an interactive map that consolidates state and federal-level food waste policies, a boon for both advocates and policymakers. As Chris Cochran, Executive Director of ReFED, said about the new tools:

ReFED's 2016 Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste identified concrete opportunities to save money and resources, feed people and create jobs. The Innovator Database and Policy Finder build on the Roadmap by creating a one-stop shop for stakeholders interested in understanding food waste policy and innovation - two levers that have the power to make change across sectors. These tools reveal that food waste reduction is both a source of viable, scalable business enterprise and a potentially significant job generator.

Food waste in America is an enormous economic and environmental problem spread across the entire food system, from consumers to companies to farms. ReFED found in its Roadmap report that every year 52 million tons of food end up in landfills while an additional 10 million tons are thrown out or left unharvested on farms. Besides contributing to climate change through landfill emissions, food waste consumes large amounts of wasted resources each year in the US, including 21 percent of freshwater, 19 percent of fertilizers and 18 percent of farmland. This wasted food costs about $218 billion annually - this includes the costs of growing, processing, distributing and disposing of food. To make things worse, all of this waste occurs while about 15 percent of Americans are food insecure.

ReFED's New ToolsImage courtesy of ReFED.

ReFED released the tools to help meet their food waste reduction goal of 20 percent over the next 10 years, all of which is technically and economically achievable by using solutions that exist today. For instance, the Innovator Database can galvanize the business and nonprofit sectors alike by publicly compiling the 400-plus and growing commercial and nonprofit groups that work directly to divert and prevent food waste. Users can check various solutions arranged by category and location, which can join innovators from the worlds of business, government, foundations and investors together in order to produce valuable services and broaden the movement. The areas of rapid growth include donations, new products and secondary marketplaces. According to ReFED's Senior Advisor, Chris Hunt, the desire to enagage on the issue is an exciting development:

Awareness of food waste and interest in solutions have increased rapidly, as clearly demonstrated by the hundreds of for-profits and nonprofits compiled in ReFED's Innovator Database. This tool reveals not only the great potential for positive social and environmental impact, but also the remarkable entrepreneurial opportunity afforded by food waste solutions.

The Policy Finder has an interactive map that allows for easy searches to see what federal and state laws and policies are in place. In partnership with Harvard Law School's Food Law and Policy Clinic, the Policy Finder was developed to assist food companies and food recovery organizations better understand the laws they face, including liability protection, food date labels, tax incentives and food waste bans. The tool also identifies legal gaps and inconsistencies so that they can be filled with smart rules and regulations at the local, state and federal levels. One example is that almost half of all US states have food donation liability protection laws in addition to federal standards, which are intended to encourage restaurants and businesses to donate food that might be discarded.

The staggering amount to food waste in America is unnecessary, and there is a lot that can be done to answer the challenge. ReFED is helping to push the effort forward with their new tools. By demonstrating the opportunities and risks that businesses and other groups face, they will be in a better position to scale up and create new anti-food waste ventures that can reduce waste and create jobs. Those involved in the movement to cut food waste can see what's working and what lies ahead, while knowing that they are one of many united in the cause.