April 19, 2019

Boston Business Journal: Prioritizing people in the food waste ban

By Lauren Palumbo, Chief Operating Officer of Lovin’ Spoonfuls

April 18, 2019

Massachusetts companies are offering more solutions to dealing with food waste since the state’s organics waste ban went into effect in 2014, but often the methods are presented as equivalent to one another to the public. For example, David Abel’s article in The Boston Globe focuses on anaerobic digestion and technology methods to combat food waste, but a more holistic perspective is missing from the greater conversation. “Green” tech and food rescue are not equally beneficial to the environment and to our community.

As the chief operating officer at Lovin’ Spoonfuls, Massachusetts’ largest food rescue organization, I’m struck by what is frequently missing from the discussion. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Hierarchy prioritizes the various methods for dealing with excess food that, in part, inspired the 2014 Massachusetts regulations. Notably, there are several methods recommended over diverting food for industrial uses.

The EPA’s six solutions for excess food, in order of recommendation, are: source reduction, feeding hungry people, and feeding animals before industrial uses (which include anaerobic digestion), composting, and landfills/incineration. In 2014, Lovin’ Spoonfuls collaborated with then-Massachusetts DEP Commissioner David Cash on implementing the food waste ban based on this hierarchy and introduced best practices in our space: food rescue for human consumption.

At Lovin’ Spoonfuls, we divert excess food that would otherwise go to waste. Working with more than 70 grocers, farms, farmer’s markets, and produce wholesalers, we rescue and distribute more than 65,000 pounds of perishable, edible foods on a weekly basis. These logistics allow us not only to feed 30,000 food-insecure people per week via our social service partners, but to also save our vendors the costs typically associated with traditional waste management. There is, of course, a social ROI — and a critical one at that — but the value proposition for businesses to ‘donate’ and treat their excess as product that holds inherent value, is strong.

As an organization we agree that food retailers in Massachusetts can do a better job diverting their excess product, but companies and organizations across every sector should also prioritize where it goes. Vested parties should first focus on higher value diversion, and then make the case for clean tech at the appropriate stage, per the EPA. Inedible foods and scraps are certainly appropriate for immediate industrial use, including anaerobic digestion, but after measures have been taken to recover edible food.

We support the state expanding the existing ban to smaller businesses and are encouraged that the team responsible for enforcing this and other waste bans will grow. We also support pending legislation (Bill H. 1475) that would open up regulations around the donation of past-dated food, increasing the availability of excess food and the willingness of businesses to provide it. “Sell by” and expiration dates are a source of confusion, though they are primarily used for marketing purposes rather than safety measures.

The number of people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from in this country is shameful. One of the fundamental principles of our work at Lovin’ Spoonfuls is the idea that hunger is not a problem of supply, but of distribution. There is a moral responsibility in the diversion and ultimate disposal of resources that are biologically critical to human survival. If we overlook this opportunity, we are failing the most vulnerable in our country.

On a national level, the cost of hunger is multi-tentacled and massively expensive. Looking at hunger as a public-health issue requires us to re-examine the way we value the solutions and treatments we employ. Implementing appropriate and intentional strategy around dealing with food waste offers opportunity across many industries. It is our duty to prioritize distribution where it has the most impact, and that always begins with people.

To see the original article, please visit https://www.bizjournals.com/boston/news/2019/04/18/viewpoint-prioritizing-people-in-the-food-waste.html.

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