Today is Stop Food Waste Day. In Pittsburgh and Allegheny County this year, this falls on Food Rescue Hero Week. The County council and the Mayor’s office will both declare Food Rescue Hero days this week – celebrating the work that Pittsburgh has led and is growing into a global movement.
I’m excited about these proclamations, first of all because it recognizes the tremendous work our Food Rescue Hero volunteers have done in this region and in the 20 cities it is currently used in. Guided by our Food Rescue Hero app, more than 33,000 people in North America have redirected 80 million pounds of fresh, surplus retail food, preventing it from getting thrown away by delivering it to people in need.
But I’m also excited because this move goes beyond spreading awareness of the issue of food waste to highlight a solution that can involve all of us, creating impact on both food insecurity and climate change.
In the U.S., around 35% of all the food we produce goes to waste. Globally, discarded food makes up the largest single source of material in landfills and is one of the biggest contributors to total methane emissions, a greenhouse gas with more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide.
The scale and pervasiveness of food waste demand solutions that involve governments, businesses, nonprofits, and individuals. Here in the U.S., we are beginning to see more governmental recognition of the problem, in everything from municipal declarations like Pittsburgh’s to state legislation like the organic waste bills recently enacted in New York and California. Meanwhile, internationally, we’ve seen France and Italy pass laws requiring or incentivizing the donation of surplus food from businesses.
California’s SB 1383, a.k.a. Short-Lived Climate Pollutants: Organic Waste Methane Emissions Reduction, which took effect this January, is the most ambitious food waste legislation in the U.S. thus far. Among other stipulations, it requires businesses that generate a certain amount of organic waste to reduce and redirect that waste away from the landfill, with an emphasis on donation for edible food. Eventually, noncompliance will result in fines.
Legislation like this creates an opportunity to build wide-reaching systems of surplus food donation. But it is not enough to put pressure on businesses or municipalities to reduce waste – we also need truly innovative logistical solutions that address the formidable barriers to food donation – because current models cannot effectively redirect food surplus at retail.
For retail food businesses like grocers and restaurants, located at the end of the supply chain, fresh food is reaching the end of its viability, which complicates donation. Surpluses of fresh foods arise irregularly, in varying amounts, and need to be consumed right away. The traditional truck-and-warehouse model of commercial food donation is not agile enough to capture this type of surplus.
This is where our team’s work comes in.
Food Rescue Hero takes an existing model for mobilizing and tracking a distributed transport network – platforms like DoorDash and UberEats – and adapts it to serve recipients like nonprofits and food-insecure households. In this non-profit version of the model, the key is community. We mobilize citizens to be the logistics and driver network, by providing a platform that makes it easy and rewarding to perform volunteer food rescues.
And it turns out that, when people have an opportunity to show up and feed their neighbors, they do – the Food Rescue Hero network performs at a 99% service level (better than some commercial food delivery services), meaning on average, we miss only 1% of food rescues made available to our network. Collectively to date, our network has redistributed almost 100 million pounds of good food, preventing it from going to landfills to feeding people.
As we celebrate our Pittsburgh volunteers with the city’s Food Rescue Hero Day (and our own Food Rescue Hero Week, which started on Monday), we’re also celebrating the many Food Rescue Heroes across the country (and soon, the world). With the impetus to fight food waste percolating through communities, cities, states, and countries, we are looking forward to helping everyday heroes step up and turn climate goals into reality.
– Leah Lizarondo
CEO & co-founder, 412 Food Rescue