29 Mar 2017 Story Resource efficiency

Young entrepreneurs lead the #notwasting charge

  • Food waste is a global – but not an impossible – challenge
  • UN Environment honours new action on #notwasting.

Eight years ago, while Rick Nahmias was walking his dog in suburban California, he noticed that the parks and gardens were littered with fallen fruit – a legacy from when Los Angeles was covered in commercial orchards.

It struck him that with so much fruit being wasted just in his own neighbourhood, the volume across Southern California must be immense – and that this fresh fruit could be a great complement to the packaged food usually given out by local charities.

That light bulb moment led to the founding of Food Forward, a grassroots effort made up of friends who started harvesting neighbourhood trees and taking the fruit to local food banks.

The first time the group made their rounds, they collected more than 350 kilogrammes from a single backyard.

Today, Food Forward is a registered non-profit whose 7,000 community volunteers gather produce from backyards, farmers markets and wholesale markets and deliver it within 24 hours to more than 150 hunger relief organizations.

“Make #notwasting a Way of Life” video contest

Last month, Food Forward was featured as one of three winners in a video contest held by UN Environment and the Commission for Environmental Cooperation to highlight great initiatives to curb food waste.

Also among the winners was the “Ola Verde” group in Colima, Mexico, which is led by the local campus of the National Technological University of Mexico and grows food in urban gardens fertilized with compost made from local food waste and rejected “ugly” fruits and vegetables.

The Zero Waste Market initiative in Toronto, Canada, was the third winner. Started by marine biologist Brianne Miller to reduce the impact of pollution on the marine environment, the Zero Waste Market is a packaging-free pop-up shop that sells food to customers, who either bring their own containers or “rent” reusable ones.

“Most of the problems our oceans face are somehow linked to our food systems,” Miller commented.

All three winners presented their initiatives at the first North American Workshop on Food Waste Reduction and Recovery in Toronto last month.

“With over one-third of all food wasted globally, the groundswell of food waste reduction efforts underway across North America is very encouraging,” said Fatou Ndoye, UN Environment Acting Regional Director for North America. “Immediate action is necessary if we want to reach the Sustainable Development Goal to halve food waste globally by 2030.”

In context: A growing trend

These initiatives are part of a gathering movement to curb food waste in response to some staggering numbers.

In the US, for example, 40 per cent of food produced goes uneaten, resulting in 62.5 million tonnes of waste each year. (For perspective, the Statue of Liberty weighs just 225 tonnes.)

Cutting this waste could save US$100 billion, according to a report released in 2016, as well as helping to feed the 1 in 7 Americans who don’t have access to affordable, nutritious food.

Governments have committed themselves to reducing food waste as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. Target 12.3 calls for halving per capita global food waste at retail and consumer level and reducing food losses along production and supply chains by 2030.

Recently, Champions 12.3, a group of leaders from government, business and research that focuses on achieving the global food waste target, published a report that found that that tackling food loss and waste is actually a sound investment, yielding attractive investment-to-return ratios in the region of a US$14 return on each dollar invested.

The report, which analyzed 700 companies across a range of sectors in 17 countries, also found that  food waste causes global economic losses of US$940 billion.

Another interesting observation was that the closer the food waste interventions are “to the fork", the higher the returns.

This means that in addition to focussing on the procurement choices and supply chains of businesses and governments, food waste will never be eliminated without citizen action – such as that encouraged by Think.Eat.Save, a joint initiative among UN Environment, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, Messe Düsseldorf and Interpack.

This also includes the kind of entrepreneurial solutions exemplified by the three award winners above, whose videos can be seen here: