NYC Food Waste Fair Unites Waste Warriors

Not food waste, but food taste.

You're in the know, right? You get that excess food is a resource, not waste. The problem is that for many Americans, thinking of food as a valuable resource rather than something to be squandered hasn't taken hold.

But if the inaugural NYC Food Waste Fair is any indication, fighting food waste is ready for prime time.

While your next door neighbor might not know, the effort to cut the enormous amount of food waste is growing. Below are five reasons the NYC Food Waste Fair demonstrates how ending food waste is going mainstream.

1. Food Waste is Popular - Very Popular

With over than 1,200 attendees and 80 exhibitors, the NYC Food Waste Fair packed them into the Brooklyn Expo Center. The fair was organized by New York City's Department of Sanitation and the Foundation for New York's Strongest, the official nonprofit organization of the Sanitation Department. The event was so crowded that organizers had to move the expert panel sessions to the main stage. The fair's great turnout isn't a direct measure of the food waste reduction movement, but without the people and the interest, it can't move forward.

Food Waste Fair ShowroomFood Waste Fair Showroom.


2. The Diversity of Farm-to-Food Waste Chain Was on Display

Farmers, sanitation workers, composters, entrepreneurs, government and nonprofit employees were all in attendance and exemplified the breadth and depth of the food waste and recycling chain. The event brought together farmers who use compost, uniformed sanitation workers who haul food scraps, TV cooking show stars who use those scraps for compost, and all the links in between. From municipal and nonprofit programs to commercial ventures,the full farm-to-food waste supply chain was present. EPA provided their invaluable Food Recovery Hierarchy to push others to limit food waste through the Food Recovery Challenge. The fair deepened the recognition by attendees that the diversity they represent is necessary to transform food scraps and other organic "waste" into resources.

3. The Business of Food Waste Reduction Is Growing

One of the impressive aspects of the fair was its showcase of businesses building an industry from the (composted) ground up. The companies ranged from manufacturers of giant material separating machines to smaller-scale Vokashi fermentation buckets. As with the many types of food we eat (and toss out), it seems there's just as many solutions to closing the food waste loop. For example, LeanPath is a company that uses their software to help restaurants and institutional kitchens track their food waste in order to reduce it at the source. ORCA produces machines for large residences and commercial settings that take organic food waste and rapidly compost it before the liquid discharge is placed into the municipal water treatment system. And it's not just back of the house that gets into the act, as consumers can slake their thirst with Toast Ale, a brewer that acquires leftover bread to make and sell tasty beer.

Signs that the gaps in the food waste system are being addressed were on also exhibit. For example, the Compost Manufacturing Alliance was there to promote standardization in large-scale composting, which is a vital if underappreciated part of the chain if food waste reduction is going to scale up. Notable on the nonprofit side was ReFED, an organization that's doing the important task of mapping, networking and providing information to the leading businesses and organizations who are working on solutions throughout the United States.  

DSNY Collection TrucksDSNY Collection Trucks.


4. If You Can Make it in New York...

New York City is at a defining moment as it continues to roll out its curbside "organics" collection, which includes food scraps, spoiled food, food-covered paper and plants that go towards composting and anaerobic digestion. Organics comprise about one-third of the waste that the Sanitation Department collects annually. When the organics program was launched in 2013, there was some skepticism that the city could pull off such a big endeavor, but instead the program has taken off. Now New York City has the largest organics collection in the United States.

Louise Bruce, the Sanitation Department's senior manager of NYC Organics, says, "NYC is committed to building an effective and efficient organics collection program, while creating clean energy, healthy soil and green jobs. Zero waste to landfills by the year 2030 is a critical goal of the administration, outlined in OneNYC. [Department of Sanitation's] goal is also to implement organics collection service without increasing the total number of trucks citywide."

The successful establishment of the organics program is a testament to the effort of the largest American city that generates so much trash in so little space (think of the curbside trash heaps in sweltering summer heat). But New York is doing it, and if you can do it here, you can do it anywhere.

5. Food Waste Reduction: It's Already Here

Above all, those at the NYC Food Waste Fair didn't witness the birth of the food waste reduction movement because it's already developing. From farm to kitchen to city and back again, we're now able to see the blossom of a functioning circular food economy. We're here to help take baby steps that lead to progress and future growth in this new and burgeoning sector.

Compost FlowersCompost Flowers.