Perspective: Sustainable DC Plan and food waste

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An expanded version of this post originally appeared on DC EcoWomen. Check it out here.

By Lesly Baesens

In the first iteration of its Sustainable DC Plan, the nation’s capital committed to reducing food waste through establishing curbside organic waste pick-up for composting. Though composting is preferable to sending food waste to methane-producing landfills, it should be a second-to-last resort as the resources necessary to produce the food have already been expended. In my paper, Leading by Example: 20 Ways the Nation’s Capital Can Reduce Food Waste, I closely examined the issue of food waste in the District and provided the city government with recommendations on how to tackle food waste more efficiently and holistically.

The paper’s recommendations range from simple ones, such as establishing a food waste reduction target in the Sustainable DC Plan, to more politically challenging ones, including requiring grocers to measure and publicly disclose wasted food amounts. By establishing a food waste target, the city would be encouraged to move beyond composting to addressing food waste more comprehensively. By requiring grocers to disclose food waste amounts, the city would bring transparency to the amount of food discarded in this sector, which in turn would incentivize retailers to waste less.

Since sharing my paper with the Office of DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and other city agencies, I was pleased to find that the city’s latest draft plan, Sustainable DC 2.0, includes several of my suggested measures. For instance, it steps-up the city’s food waste reduction efforts by committing to a target – reduce DC’s food waste by 60 percent by 2032. In order to develop recommendations on reducing food waste, the city will conduct an assessment of food waste in household and businesses – another one of my proposals. Sustainable DC 2.0 also proposes to educate residents and businesses on food “buying, storage, and disposal […] to minimize waste.” As discussed in my paper, consumer education campaigns can help households become drivers of reducing food waste.

These improved commitments are a major step forward for the District in its efforts to tackle food waste. However, I challenge D.C. to consider adopting bolder, more hard-hitting recommendations. We’ll need them if we want to become a model of food waste reduction in the U.S. and internationally, especially if we want to achieve the city’s goal of becoming “the most sustainable city in the nation.” In the meantime, I challenge you to educate yourself about the city’s efforts by reading Sustainable DC 2.0.

Lesly earned her Master’s degree in Global Environmental Policy from American University focusing on sustainable agriculture. A professional with more than 10 years of experience in project management, policy, and research, she is a die-hard food waste reduction advocate and is always looking for opportunities to advance the cause. 

DC FRWG features at DC State Fair

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What should you do with stale bread? Should you worry about little white dots on parmesan cheese? And what’s the best way to stock your fridge?

At the ninth annual DC State Fair earlier this year, representatives of the DC Food Recovery Working Group engaged fair-goers on these questions and the myriad ways they can reduce their food waste–and their environmental impact.

During a one-hour session more than 60 people stopped by the DC FRWG table to learn about three themes:

_JP_9580Cooking! Claudia Fabiano, a working group board member, brought samples of dishes
that use ingredients that people might assume are waste. She made banana bread from overripe bananas, pickles from extra cucumbers and panzanella salad from stale bread.

Fridge stocking! Aisha Salazar, the cooking and nutrition coordinator for the Arlington Food Assistance Center, challenged fair-goers to stock a sample fridge to best extend their food’s life. Milk, for example, shouldn’t be stored in the fridge door; it will stay colder on a shelf inside the fridge.

Eating….or tossing?! Rachael Jackson, founder of EatOrToss, quized people on whether a selection of imperfect-looking foods were safe to eat. Items included parmesan speckled with white crystals, a tomato with cracking scars and a very brown banana.

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We had a great time at the fair! If you’re planning a community event and would like to include a display like the one we offered at the State Fair, please reach out to dcfoodrecovery@gmail.com. We’d love to work with you!

Special thanks to working group board member Josh Etim who helped make sure everything went well and to Amanda Joy Photographics for providing the photos in this post. 

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A 2018 Win! DC’s Food Recovery Working Group Food Waste Successfully Lobbies to Save Good Food!

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DC’s Food Recovery Working Group (FRWG) is celebrating the passage of DC’s Save Good Food Act!

On Tuesday, October 16th, the DC Council unanimously passed the bill and in November, with no objection from DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, the bill became law. This bill provides new incentives that promote and facilitate food recovery efforts in DC by providing tax incentives to DC residents and businesses who donate food to those in need.  

The act will also help clarify some of DC’s confusing and strict food labeling laws and keep good food out of the landfill. The bill has broad support from DC businesses, non-profits, and residents.

Ona Balkus, DC’s Acting Food Policy Director, believes this law will benefit District residents: “This bill will encourage more DC businesses and residents to donate healthy food to those in need, keep good food out of the landfill, and clarify confusing laws around food donation. It’s a significant step in helping DC become a national leader in sustainability.”

Members of the District’s Food Recovery Working Group (FRWG) lobbied the DC Council to move the Save Good Food Amendment Act forward.  In addition to a petition and a Twitter campaign, in June, a coalition of food recovery advocates visited Councilmembers to garner support for the bill.  Seylou, a DC bakery that regularly donates food through Food Rescue US, provided leftover baked goods for the effort.  

FRWG’s lobbying efforts paid off and in late September, the bill passed out of the Council’s Finance and Revenue Committee. Once out of that Committee, the bill moved forward quickly. Amy Kelley, Policy lead for FRWG notes, “Our work on this bill shows how local action can lead to positive change.  We had a strong and diverse coalition that supported this legislation. We advocated strongly in favor of this bill, and we’re thrilled that it passed.”

Interested in becoming involved in the DC FRWG? Contact Josh Singer at dcfoodrecovery@gmail.com.  Want to become a Food Waste Warrior by helping to transport good food around DC? Contact Kate Urbank of Food Rescue US in DC at kate@foodrescue.us.

10 ways to reduce food waste in Washington, DC

Please note, the following post originally appeared on the website of the School of International Service at American University. It’s available here.

By Lesly Baesens

Approximately 40 percent of food produced each year in the US is wasted, from farmers discarding part of their crops due to supermarket demand for aesthetically pleasing produce to consumer over-reliance on expiration dates. The resources and human labor necessary to grow, transport, and process food that will never be consumed have negative environmental, social, and economic repercussions. Notably, food rotting in landfills emits methane, a major contributor to climate change.

Federally, there are no laws, incentives, or enforceable requirements to reduce food waste. However, cities and states have stepped up and made pledges to reduce food waste. Washington, DC, aims to reduce food waste with the long-term goal of establishing curbside organic waste pick-up for composting. While preferable to sending food waste to landfill, composting should be a second-to-last resort as the resources necessary to produce the food have already been expanded.

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Salmon belly with pickled collard stems by Teaism. This dish was created to use ingredients that might otherwise go to waste. Urging more restaurants to showcase how they reduce waste, is one of Lesly Baesen’s top 10 recommendations for reducing food waste in DC. This dish was created as part of the RescueDish initiative.  (Photos by Amanda Joy Photographics)

I recently submitted my paper Leading by Example: 20 Ways the Nation’s Capital Can Reduce Food Waste to the DC government. This paper explores the ways DC can comprehensively tackle food waste. To develop these suggestions, I spoke with and included the input of city government staff, civil society, and private sector food waste stakeholders. Here are ten of the most critical recommendations for reducing food waste in the District:

(1) INCLUDE A FOOD WASTE REDUCTION TARGET IN THE SUSTAINABLE DC PLAN, WHICH AIMS TO MAKE DC “THE HEALTHIEST, GREENEST, AND MOST LIVABLE CITY IN THE UNITED STATES.”

Having a specific target could help the city move beyond its compost-focused waste reduction strategy and address food waste more holistically by considering source reduction and reuse measures, such as donating food to food banks.

(2) REQUIRE GROCERS TO MEASURE AND PUBLICLY DISCLOSE WASTED FOOD AMOUNTS.

There currently are no requirements for retailers to publicly report the amount of food they trash. Bringing transparency to the amount of food discarded would incentivize retailers to waste less.

(3) REQUIRE GROCERY STORES TO DONATE UNSOLD FOOD.

DC could require grocery stores to donate unsold food, just as France did on a national scale in 2016.

(4) RUN A CITY-WIDE CONSUMER EDUCATION CAMPAIGN THROUGH BOTH ONE-ON-ONE AND VIRTUAL INTERACTION. ENGAGE CONSUMER-FACING BUSINESSES IN THIS CAMPAIGN.

There are several models DC could use to run a consumer education campaign. For example, engaging residents on social media, collaborating with retailers to provide shoppers with recipes on how to use leftovers, or through direct engagement at city events.

(5) CREATE PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS TO MAKE DONATING EXTRA FOOD EASIER.

The lack of a reliable food pick-up system can prevent businesses from donating their excess food. DC could increase food rescue organizations’ capacity by connecting them with food donors and with volunteers who can help transport donated food.

(6) CREATE AN ENABLING ENVIRONMENT TO ENCOURAGE INNOVATIVE FOOD WASTE REDUCTION MODELS.

DC should encourage innovative business models that improve food access while reducing food waste. For example, grants could be awarded to businesses that are proposing new and innovative ways of reducing food waste, such as working with local area food banks to start an at-home food distribution system for low income residents.

(7) CREATE A WEBSITE DEDICATED TO FOOD WASTE REDUCTION EFFORTS AND EXECUTE A MARKETING CAMPAIGN DRIVING TRAFFIC TO IT.

DC should create an interactive, consumer-friendly website dedicated to combating food waste. This website would serve a variety of purposes for both businesses and individual consumers, such as featuring local businesses participating in food-waste reduction efforts and providing consumers with ideas they can implement in their own lives.

(8) DEVELOP A BROCHURE TO EDUCATE RESTAURANTS ABOUT THE POTENTIAL ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF REDUCING FOOD WASTE.

Restaurants have a lot to gain from wasting less food. Restaurants could save an estimated $1.6 billion annually by adopting food waste reduction measures. DC could provide them with a brochure highlighting the economic benefits of and methods for food waste reduction specific to the industry.

(9) TURN RESCUEDISH DC INTO A HIGHER VISIBILITY EVENT.

The DC Food Recovery Working Group (FRWG) organizes an annual “RescueDish DC” event, which invites chefs to make creative dishes with “castoff” ingredients. To increase the number of chefs that showcase their talent and creativity, DC could consider partnering with FRWG to give RescueDish DC more visibility. Such an event would not just give these restaurants recognition, but also allow them to think of new and inventive ways to cook with unused food.

(10) INCENTIVIZE FOOD WASTE REDUCTION MEASURES IN GROCERY STORES BY ENGAGING THEM IN A HIGH-VISIBILITY, PUBLIC-FACING CAMPAIGN.

DC could provide a retail-specific checklist of items to reduce waste. Retailers who fill the greatest number of checklist items could be featured on social media, as well as be provided with a special logo that they could display in stores, in circulars, and online.

Mayor Muriel Bowser should consider implementing some of these recommendations, as they would align DC with other US municipalities in addressing food waste. Implementing them all could turn DC into a model of food waste reduction both in the US and internationally. At the same time, these recommendations could save the city money, create jobs, improve food security, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This in turn would contribute to reaching DC’s goal of being the nation’s most sustainable city.