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A Beginner's Guide to Food Waste

Here’s an overview of the current food waste landscape.

It can serve as a primer for those looking for a quick guide to government calls to action, legislation, and online awareness campaigns.


A National Food Waste Reduction Goal

In September 2015, the USDA and EPA announced the first-ever national food waste reduction goal. The organizations called for a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030. The announcement propelled the topic into national conversation, eventually leading to Food & Wine magazine naming food waste as “the most discussed food-related topic of the year.”

Read more: What does a national call for food waste reduction mean?

U.S. Food Waste Challenge

The reduction goal came over two years after the U.S. Food Waste Challenge was launched in June 2013, which had over 4,000 participants by the end of 2014. Organizations within the U.S. food supply chain can participate in the challenge by submitting an activity form or joining through the Food Recovery Challenge.

Food Recovery Hierarchy

At the forefront of all food waste reduction efforts is the Food Recovery Hierarchy from the EPA, which is a great resource for understanding how organizations can identify landfill alternatives for wasted food. The hierarchy ranks ways to prevent and divert wasted food from most preferred to least preferred.

ReFED Roadmap

In March 2016, ReFED (Rethink Food Waste Through Economics and Data) released their roadmap of 27 actionable solutions to reducing food waste. It’s the first data-driven guide for businesses, government, funders, and nonprofits to collectively reduce food waste at scale.

Through the lens of the Food Recovery Hierarchy, the roadmap outlines 12 solutions regarding food waste prevention, 7 solutions regarding food recovery, and 8 solutions regarding food waste recycling.


Good Samaritan Act

Passed in 1996, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act — commonly referred to as just the Good Samaritan Act — provides liability protection for food donations made in good faith. Good faith donors, including individuals, wholesalers, distributors, nonprofits, farmers, gleaners, and restaurants are protected, except in cases of gross negligence (intentionally donating food that is known to cause harm to the recipient).

Food Date Labeling Act

Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal introduced the Food Date Labeling Act in May 2016 in an effort to standardize date labels such as “use by,” “sell by,” and “best by.”

Confusing date labels contribute to 90% of Americans throwing out perfectly good food, according the ReFED report. There are currently no national or governmental regulations on food date labeling for safety.

Read the bill here.

Read more: The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America

Enhanced Tax Deductions for Food Donations

In December 2015, Congress passed a permanent extension of enhanced tax deductions for food donations. When donating inventory of wholesome food to charity, Section 170(e)(3) of the U.S. Tax Code stipulates that businesses are eligible for enhanced tax deductions, up to 15% of their taxable income.

Learn which data you should track for effective tax deduction documentation.

Read more: What You Need to Know About the Tax Benefits for Food Donations


NRDC’s Save the Food campaign

The “Save the Food” ad campaign by the creators of Smokey the Bear (Ad Council) and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) brings consumer attention to the issue of food waste, aiming to change household behavior. NRDC scientist and zero-waste advocate Dana Gunders revealed the campaign at the 2016 Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C. in April 2016.

Meal planning tips, shopping guidelines, and information on deciphering “best by” and “use by” dates on products can be found at savethefood.com, along with a comprehensive food storage directory. The campaign also includes digital media, outdoor (billboard), print and web advertising, and a TV PSA.

Watch the journey of a strawberry from the farm to the refrigerator to the garbage, highlighting the resources that it takes to bring food to consumers.

EXPIRED: Food Waste in America film

EXPIRED is a short film that explores how misleading date labels on food products contribute to food waste in America. Spearheaded by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, EXPIRED aims to show how date label reform can create a large impact in reducing the amount of wasted food.

Read more: Consumer Perceptions of Date Labels

Ugly Fruit & Veg Twitter handle

Ugly produce has become a star on social media, most notably on the @UglyFruitandVeg Twitter handle and Instagram page. Anti-food waste advocate Jordan Figueiredo runs the account and features ugly fruits and vegetables sent in by fans.

Read more: How one activist got 30,000 people thinking about food waste

Feeding the 5,000

Feedback, an organization dedicated to public campaign about food waste reduction, hosts their “Feeding the 5,000” events in cities across the world. The events are communal meals for 5,000 people made out of recovered food that would have otherwise gone to waste.

Just Eat It film

The documentary features Canadian filmmakers Grant Baldwin and Jenny Rustemeyer who aim to survive for six months solely on food that would have otherwise gone to waste.

Read more: 4 Fantastic Food Waste Quotes from the "Just Eat It" Film

John Oliver segment

The Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Food Waste segment brought the issue to national attention outside of the food and waste industries.