On Food Waste

Organizational & Institutional Action: Sweetgreen “Scraps” the Idea of Food Waste

In developed countries, the majority of food loss occurs at the point of sale (such as food waste from supermarkets and restaurants) and at the hands of the consumer (such as household food waste), (Niesenbaum 2017). Solutions to food waste at the individual level primarily require active behavior change, such as taking or requesting smaller meal portions, going “trayless,” saving extra food for leftovers, evaluating and re-planning grocery lists, adopting better food preservation techniques, and composting. However, there are a number of barriers to these behavior changes that make it difficult for individuals to reduce their food waste. Some of these barriers are simply due to the individual’s indifference to practicing sustainability or ignorance of their contribution to food waste. However, there are still many other individuals who are mindful of their food choices and try to practice sustainable behaviors and waste reduction. While those who actively work to reduce their food waste can be quite successful when grocery shopping and eating at home, it can be difficult to eat sustainably at restaurants and cafeterias since there is a lack of individual control over the food. One can reduce their food waste at restaurants and cafeterias by going “trayless” and taking home extra food for leftovers, but there are many other factors that individuals do not have agency over. For example, while one can finish their plate or ask for a box for leftovers at a restaurant, they cannot control the food waste that occurs in the kitchen and at other tables. In order to support food waste reduction at restaurants from a more macro level, individuals can seek out restaurants that specifically focus on reducing their food waste and practicing sustainability.

Source: Photograph by Bill Couch

Sweetgreen is a food shop with over 50 locations in various cities in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC. Their menu includes healthy beverages, salads, grain bowls, and make-your-own options, with plenty of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free ingredients. Their menu varies by location because they source their ingredients from partners who they know and trust, and who they believe are ethical and sustainable. They also try to source locally whenever possible.

Source: Photograph by Anna Ottum

All of their sources are listed on the walls in their stores in order to publicize their supply chain for consumers. In addition to their transparent supply chain, all of their stores have open kitchens so that customers can watch them prepare the fresh food. They buy whole vegetables, whole fruits, and whole grains every day, and they buy their food seasonally. Overall, Sweetgreen supports food sustainability by buying fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients from like-minded farmers who they trust.

In addition to their focus on food sustainability, Sweetgreen practices sustainable waste management. When new stores are built, they work to preserve the natural exterior of the building, and they use furniture made from recycled materials. All of their utensils and bowls are biodegradable, and they label their separate bins for recycling and compostable trash so that customers know exactly where each of their trash items belong. Sweetgreen strives to make every aspect of their stores sustainable, from their food sourcing to their waste management to their furniture. On their website, they assert that “society can’t afford not to think and eat sustainably, and Sweetgreen takes steps to positively impact the food system.” This supports the definition of sustainability regarding the “protection of natural systems and biodiversity through the use of resources in a way that maximizes renewal, encourages reuse, and minimizes waste.” Additionally, Sweetgreen’s menu offers healthy food options made with fresh, nutritional ingredients, thereby reflecting the definition of sustainability concerning the “elevation of human well-being standards which include…improved health and nutrition.”

In addition to their overall dedication to sustainability, Sweetgreen specifically addresses the issue of food waste. In 2015, they partnered with Chef Dan Barber, who created the “wastED” salad at Blue Hill restaurant and organized wastED dinner pop-ups in New York City. Inspired by wastED’s theme of food waste and reuse, Sweetgreen created a food scrap salad made up of food parts that are normally thrown away, such as cabbage cores, kale stems, and broccoli stalks.

Source: Food & Wine, June 22, 2017.

By utilizing every part of each food item and promoting the consumption of typically-discarded food parts, Sweetgreen encouraged customers to reduce their food waste and to reevaluate traditional notions of consumable food. According to the definition of sustainability, Sweetgreen’s food scrap salad “encourages reuse” and “minimizes waste.” However, since food scraps are stigmatized and generally viewed as inedible and unappetizing, not many people would be expected to show any interest in purchasing the salad. Sweetgreen preemptively avoided this barrier by advertising the salad as “trendy” and hip, and they offered it as a limited-time menu item in order to encourage people to “buy it while they can.” Sweetgreen also sold the salad as one of their cheapest options, and they included other “traditional” food items in the salad along with a delicious pesto vinaigrette.

In addition to their overall promotion of sustainability, Sweetgreen specifically addressed the issue of food waste by making and selling food scrap salads. They helped to reduce food waste not only by using food parts that are typically thrown away, but also by raising awareness of food waste, encouraging sustainable behaviors and eating habits, and challenging conceptions of “legitimate” food.

 

Works Cited

Niesenbaum, Richard A. 2017. Sustainable Solutions: Problem Solving for Current and Future Generations. Unpublished book, Oxford University Press.

Sweetgreen. Retrieved from https://www.sweetgreen.com/

Entrepreneurial & Business Solutions: A Kick-Start to Food Preservation

In developed countries, the majority of food loss occurs at the point of sale (such as food waste from supermarkets, restaurants, and other institutional food services, including college campuses) and at the hands of the consumer (such as household food waste), (Niesenbaum 2017). At restaurants, food waste typically occurs when the portion sizes are too large for the customers; however, this can be solved by asking for a box to take the excess food home and save for leftovers. At cafeterias (such as college campus dining halls), food waste occurs when individuals overestimate how hungry they are (if it is self-serve) or when the cafeteria workers serve them excessive portion sizes. Food waste can be reduced in cafeterias by requesting smaller portions when receiving food from the servers, or by taking smaller portions if it is self-serve and then going back for more if it wasn’t enough. Additionally, going “trayless” in cafeterias reduces food waste by decreasing the amount of food that is taken back to the table (Niesenbaum 2017).

In the household, food waste occurs when individuals cannot finish the meals they’ve prepared; this can be solved by simply preparing less food, and then making more if the initial portion size wasn’t enough. Even if too much food is prepared, food waste can be prevented by putting away the extra food as leftovers and finishing it another time. However, a major cause of food waste in the household is due to expired food, particularly with fresh produce. Expiration can be delayed, however, by developing better preservation techniques and products. A company called Phresh Organics created a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for their product called the “Food Protector.” The Food Protector is a small device that slowly releases specialized organic powders designed to preserve fruits and vegetables. These Food Protectors come in various colors and two different designs: an apple or a cute robot.

Source: Phresh Organics “Food Protectors” Kickstarter Page.

The Food Protector works by placing it amongst fruits and vegetables, most commonly in a bowl in the kitchen. It slowly releases powders that safely “target the exact bacteria and fungi that cause spoilage in fruits or vegetables,” (from the Phresh Organics Kickstarter page). This organic powder is generated from microencapsulated essential oil (such as clove, spearmint, thyme, and others), and it triples the lifespan of the fruits and vegetables. These essential oils function as natural insecticides, repellents, and antimicrobials, but are expensive amongst biopesticides because they require multiple applications in agriculture since they are unstable in air and light. However, the Phresh Organics team spent twelve years developing inexpensive encapsulation methods for the essential oils. The microencapsulated essential oil products they invented stabilize the oils in air and light, and they have a long-term release without harming the produce (thereby preventing phytotoxicity) and without leaving toxic residues in the surrounding environment. Each Food Protector has a built-in LED light that changes color from green to red as the powder runs out, reminding the user to change the powder.

Source: Phresh Organics “Food Protectors” Kickstarter Page.

Since Phresh Organics promoted their Food Protectors on Kickstarter, their key partners are people who donated to their fundraiser. These key partners provide financial resources for the Food Protectors, and in return Phresh Organics provides them with rewards such as early access to the products, refills on the powder, participation in the development process, and other benefits, depending on the size of the donation. These exchanges of donations for rewards reflect the customer/beneficiary segments, where some customers receive varying numbers of free products, refills, and other services depending on how much they donated. Additionally, the customer/beneficiary relationships depend on the donation sizes. For example, the reward for donating more than $4,000 is a free flight (and paid hotel) to the Phresh Organics headquarters in Israel where they will receive a free tour of the center and the making of the powders, as well as a tour around Israel.

Phresh Organics’ intended social impact in making the Food Protectors is to reduce food waste in households (primarily in developed countries) by improving the preservation of fresh produce. Additionally, Phresh Organics states on their Kickstarter page that while their technology for the microencapsulated essential oils is specific to households, they are hopeful that they can develop different combinations of materials and new methods of releasing the powders in order to improve preservation in shipment, storage, and agricultural growth of fruits and vegetables. This will decrease the need for pesticides and other non-organic methods of preservation, and will specifically reduce food waste in developing countries where the majority of food loss occurs during the harvesting and processing stages (Niesenbaum 2017). The Food Protectors are a sustainable solution to food loss in developed countries, and the powders used in the Food Protectors have the potential to solve food loss on a global scale. By preserving produce through organic means, the Food Protectors reflect the definition of sustainability due to their “protection of natural systems and biodiversity through the use of resources in a way that maximizes renewal, encourages reuse, and minimizes waste.” In preserving fresh produce, the Food Protectors minimize waste and protect natural systems by reducing the amount of food that ends up in landfills and releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The potential for the organic powders from Food Protectors to be utilized for harvesting, shipment, and storage also protects natural systems by eliminating the need for pesticides and other non-organic preservation methods that can harm the environment. While the Food Protectors currently minimize waste by preserving fresh produce in households, they also have the potential to minimize food loss in developing countries during the harvesting and processing stages, thereby further contributing to the definition of sustainability.

 

Works Cited

Niesenbaum, Richard A. 2017. Sustainable Solutions: Problem Solving for Current and Future Generations. Unpublished book, Oxford University Press.

Phresh Organics. 2016. “Food Protectors: Your Kitchen’s Heroes.” Kickstarter. Retrieved from https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/phresh/food-protectors-your-kitchens-heroes

Individual Action: The Power of the Individual

Food waste is a global problem that impacts human beings and the environment. Food that ends up in landfills decomposes anaerobically and pollutes the air with greenhouse gases (Niesenbaum 2017), and the global mass production and wastage of food perpetuates deforestation, single-crop farming, overhunting, and overfishing (FAO Food Wastage Footprint Summary Report 2013). In addition to its ecological impact on the planet, food waste socially and economically impacts the millions of people who do not have access to a sufficient amount and quality of food. Food waste is a global problem because it harms the environment and perpetuates the discrepancy between the amount of food that is wasted globally and the number of people who suffer from food insecurity.

Though many potential solutions to global food waste seem overwhelming and beyond individual control, food waste can be significantly reduced at the microlevel. Developed countries such as the United States typically generate food waste at the point of sale (such as food waste from supermarkets and restaurants) and at the hands of the consumer (such as household food waste). Thus, in addition to focusing on reducing food waste where food is sold, prepared, and consumed (such as supermarkets, restaurants, and other institutional food services, including college campuses), a significant amount of food is wasted in individual households (Niesenbaum 2017). Therefore, making individual behavior changes will help to reduce the amount of food that is wasted globally.

Individual efforts at reducing food waste can be made at the point of sale and within the household. Food waste often occurs when people buy more food than they need at the grocery store and are unable to finish it before it expires. This issue can be solved by simply buying less food at the store. More strategically, an individual can reflect on their past meals and determine what foods they finish and what foods typically end up in the trash. From there, they can alter their grocery list and only buy as much as they need. 

Source: University of California, Los Angeles, Sustainability.

Food waste at the point of sale also occurs at restaurants and cafeterias. Though individuals cannot control the portion size of restaurant meals, they can ask for a box to put their uneaten food in to bring home and save for leftovers. At cafeterias (such as college campus dining halls), individuals can serve themselves smaller portions and then go back for more food if it wasn’t enough. If cafeterias are not self-serve, individuals can request smaller portions when receiving their food. Additionally, going “trayless” in cafeterias reduces food waste by decreasing the amount of food that is taken back to the table (Niesenbaum 2017).

In addition to wasting food at the point of purchase, food waste occurs in the household. While some food is thrown out before it is even prepared (due to expiration dates or the over-abundance of food items), food waste also occurs when individuals cannot finish the meals they’ve prepared. One solution to this issue is to reduce the portion size, and then make more food if the initial amount wasn’t enough. If too much food is prepared, a solution is to simply put away the extra food as leftovers and finish it another time.

Source: Edible Manhattan,          November 10, 2014.

These individual solutions to food waste support the aspect of sustainability that focuses on the “protection of natural systems and biodiversity through the use of resources in a way that maximizes renewal, encourages reuse, and minimizes waste.” By strategizing and buying less food, reducing portion sizes, going “trayless,” and saving extra food for leftovers, individuals will significantly minimize waste while protecting natural systems (since food waste that decomposes anaerobically releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and perpetuates air pollution). However, there are some barriers to these solutions. Regarding grocery shopping, people typically fall into a routine that they may be unwilling to reevaluate. Additionally, it can be difficult to predict how much food will be needed each week, and most people would rather buy excess food than buy too little and have to make a second grocery trip. However, these barriers can be removed by incentivizing the reduction of food purchases, perhaps through neighborhood and community programs that discourage food waste through fun competitions and challenges. Food waste at grocery stores can also be reduced by prompts, such as signs around the store reminding shoppers to only taken as much as they need.

Regarding restaurants and cafeterias, a barrier to reducing food waste is that some people order or serve themselves more food than necessary because their eyes are bigger than their stomachs. In addition to going “trayless” and bringing home uneaten food to save as leftovers, a solution to this barrier could be to put prompts on menus or around cafeterias. On menus, putting the portion size and/or number of calories below each food item could help to reduce the number of items ordered by customers. At cafeterias, prompts could be put up by tray stations encouraging customers to go “trayless.” Though these solutions to barriers could be effective in changing individual behavior, they require interventions at the organizational/institutional level. However, these interventions could be influenced by individual people who sign petitions or lobby for changes in institutional policies regarding food waste.

Regarding food waste in the household, people may be unwilling to save food as leftovers simply because it is more convenient to throw out extra food, or because they don’t like the quality of leftover food. A solution to this could be to compost extra food instead of throwing it out. Additionally, neighborhoods and communities could incentivize the reduction of waste by setting up a “weigh the waste” type of program with trash collection, where households are rewarded for reducing their amount of trash each week. In addition to incentivizing waste reduction, a solution could be to employ the “commitment” strategy by encouraging residents to sign a pledge stating that they will reduce their food waste. This commitment could be even stronger if the names of residents who made pledges were listed in a community list serve email.

While some of these solutions to barriers involve the intervention of organizations or communities, they can be employed by individuals within those communities. Thus, individuals who are more motivated to reduce their own food waste can practice sustainability-related behavior changes, and can also enact change by encouraging their friends and neighbors to reduce their food waste. While many issues regarding food waste require institutional-level changes, the individual plays a significant role in the fight for sustainability and can have a huge impact on the reduction of food waste.

 

Works Cited

Niesenbaum, Richard A. 2017. Sustainable Solutions: Problem Solving for Current and Future Generations. Unpublished book, Oxford University Press.

Food Security Information Network. 2017. “Global Report on Food Crises 2017: Executive Summary.” Retrieved from  http://documents.wfp.org/stellent/groups/public/documents/ena/wfp291270.pdf?_ga=2.256690251.1760332768.1507311516-406518691.1507311516

Food Waste: Why It’s a Problem

Food waste is a significant problem in the United States and the rest of the world. Currently, there is a huge discrepancy between the amount of food that is wasted globally and the number of people who suffer from food insecurity. On a global scale, more than one third of the food that is produced goes to waste, and about 28 billion pounds of food is wasted each year in the United States alone (Niesenbaum 2017). Food waste that ends up in landfills decomposes anaerobically, which releases greenhouse gases such as methane into the atmosphere and contributes to the harmful pollution of our air (Niesenbaum 2017). In addition to harming the environment and disrupting the carbon cycle through the emission of greenhouse gases, food waste impacts the millions of people who have limited access to food. Though roughly 40% of food produced in the U.S. is wasted each year, the USDA Economic Research Service (2016) reports that 12.3% of U.S. households were food insecure in 2016, and the Food Security Information Network (2017) reports that roughly 108 million people suffered from food insecurity on a global scale in 2016. Food waste is a global problem because it denies millions of people access to a sufficient amount and quality of food while perpetuating the pollution of our air with greenhouse gas emissions.

Food is being produced and wasted at an unsustainable rate. One aspect of sustainability is the “protection of natural systems and biodiversity through the use of resources in a way that maximizes renewal, encourages reuse, and minimizes waste.” However, global food waste harms natural systems because it disrupts the carbon cycle through the release of methane as a result of anaerobic decomposition of food. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Wastage Footprint Summary Report (2013), food waste also negatively impacts biodiversity because the global mass production and wastage of food perpetuates deforestation and single-crop farming at the agricultural level, and overhunting and overfishing at the species level (47). Additionally, the anaerobic decomposition of food waste releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, thereby disrupting the carbon and nitrogen cycles and decreasing biodiversity. Sustainability aims to minimize waste, yet food waste constitutes roughly 15% of the total garbage produced in the United States (Niesenbaum 2017). Food waste is even more prevalent in supermarkets in the U.S., with roughly 63% of their waste comprising of food products (Niesenbaum 2017).

Source: Food Security Information Network, using data from the March 2017 Global Report on Food Crises.

Another aspect of sustainability is the “provision of equitable economic development and opportunity without undermining people’s capacity to meet their own needs in the present and future,” as well as the “elevation of human well-being standards.” However, food waste contributes to the inequitable distribution of food across the world, leaving millions of people to suffer from food insecurity. This disproportionate access to food does not reflect equitable opportunity, nor does it elevate human well-being standards. Rather, it provides some sectors of the population with food access that wildly surpasses their basic needs, leaving the rest of the population to struggle to come even remotely close to meeting their own needs.

My objective is to explore sustainable solutions to the global issue of food waste. I aim to discover and analyze methods of sustainability that reduce the carbon footprint of food waste and improve the accessibility and equitability of food distribution across the globe. However, approaching solutions to global food waste involves analyzing its causes from different perspectives depending on geography. Though developed and developing countries produce roughly the same amount of food waste, the actual occurrences of food waste differ along the supply chain. Developed countries such as the United States typically generate food waste at the point of sale (such as food waste from supermarkets and restaurants) and at the hands of the consumer (such as household food waste), while developing countries typically lose food after harvest and during processing (Niesenbaum 2017). Thus, sustainable solutions to food waste in developed countries must focus on sources where food is sold, prepared, and consumed, such as supermarkets, restaurants, and other institutional food services (including college campuses), as well as individual households where consumers waste food (Niesenbaum 2017). On the other hand, sustainable solutions to food waste in developing countries requires the improvement of harvest and processing techniques, as well as post-harvest storage and transportation (Niesenbaum 2017). My goal is to explore and promote sustainable solutions to food waste that focus on the specific issues and needs in various locations across the world in order to reduce food waste on a global scale and create a more sustainable planet for our future.

 

Works Cited

Niesenbaum, Richard A. 2017. Sustainable Solutions: Problem Solving for Current and Future Generations. Unpublished book, Oxford University Press.

United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. 2016. “December 2016 Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement.” Retrieved from  https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/key-statistics-graphics.aspx

Food Security Information Network. 2017. “Global Report on Food Crises 2017: Executive Summary.” Retrieved from  http://documents.wfp.org/stellent/groups/public/documents/ena/wfp291270.pdf?_ga=2.256690251.1760332768.1507311516-406518691.1507311516

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2013. “Food Wastage Footprint, Impacts on Natural Resources: Summary Report.” Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3347e/i3347e.pdf