Food Waste: 

A Strategic Regional Conversation

On November 4, 2016 Green Umbrella, along with the City of Cincinnati’s Office of Environment and Sustainability, Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District, and Brueggeman Center for Dialogue at Xavier University convened the first ever regional meeting concerning food waste. The forum brought together over 150 stakeholders from across the food system for a strategic conversation to create a roadmap to prevent, recover, and recycle food waste in the Greater Cincinnati region.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), forty percent of all food produced in the United States is thrown out each year resulting in an annual waste of $165 billion of uneaten food, and increased green house gas at landfills. To address this problem, the USDA and United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued national goals of reducing food waste 50% by 2030. Closer to home, an average family of four wastes fifteen hundred dollars a year in food they do not eat. Amidst all of this waste, locally 16% of our households are food insecure, with over 100,000 of them being children under 18.

The forum, Food Waste: A Strategic Regional Conversation, was the first step in a broad based discussion about how our region will address the national reduction goals and included various activities over the course of the day. These included speakers, a panel discussion, facilitated small group discussions, and break-out sessions, all dedicated to helping our region set priorities for preventing, recovering, and recycling food waste.  The key note, from Susan Mooney, Chief of Municipal and Industrial Materials from Region 5 United States Environmental Protection Agency, outlined the national food waste reduction goals, and described some of the challenges facing us and opportunities available to make progress. A panel of experts (Ed Devoid from Chartwells and XU Dining Services; Regina Northouse, Executive Director of the Food Recovery Network and Karen Luken, CEO of Economic Environmental Solutions International provided positive examples of current programs that are working either nationally and/or locally.

Scott Burns, President of Global Asset Recovery Programs, presented a draft regional action plan for food waste, which was followed by table discussions.  Stakeholders from numerous food system sectors, including farmers, food retailers, manufacturers, government entities, educational institutions, non-profits, restaurant and food services, corporations, business accelerators students, media partners and foundations provided feedback and identified  their potential roles in the plan.  The Forum also included Deep Dive discussions about Food Waste Education, Recovery Infrastructure and Logistics as well as Organics Recycling. Next steps were outlined, and planned follow up included distributing a more refined Regional Action Plan for Food Waste which incorporates input from stakeholders. Future plans include developing an implementation process for the Action Plan and sharing resources and information with regional partners.

Based on research and economic analysis, the Fink Foundation published “ReFED: Rethinking Food Waste through Economics and Data: A Roadmap to Reduce Food Waste which maps a path for actions and solutions and seeks ways to unlock new philanthropic and investment capital, along with technology, business and policy innovation.  Addressing food waste is projected to catalyze tens of thousands of new jobs, recover billions of meals annually for the hungry and reduce national water use and greenhouse gas emissions. Our region has begun the journey to be part of this national effort.

Funding for the forum was provided by Meshewa Farm Foundation, Interact for Health, the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and Partners for Places – a project of the Funders’ Network for Smart and Livable Communities, Hamilton County  Recycling and Solid Waste District, the City of Cincinnati’s Office of Environment and Sustainability and Brueggeman Center for Dialogue at Xavier University.

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