Earlier this month, I attended the ReFED food waste summit in Minneapolis to learn about the current state of food waste and innovative solutions in our global food system. The summit brought together policymakers, entrepreneurs, academics, and funders working in the food waste space to share ideas and learn from one another. From breakout groups and informal conversations to panel discussions, I was inspired to hear about many solutions from diverse perspectives. These five themes stood out to me the most:
Although companies contribute to the majority of food waste, it is vital to include consumers in conversations around the issue to bring about solutions. Many individuals are simply unaware of how big of an issue food waste is and how it contributes to climate change. There are nutritional and cost-savings benefits to eliminating food waste as well, which should be highlighted when communicating with individuals about this topic. To encourage consumers to change their attitude toward what gets used and what gets wasted, we should rebrand “food waste” as “food that is wasted” to emphasize the fact that edible food, not waste, is not being properly consumed.
The overall production, storage, and logistics movement of our global foods, including food that is wasted, produce more than one-third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Compared to other climate change contributors, however, food does not makeup one-third of the content in conversations taking place about solutions and funding. Increasing education around the issue is vital. Furthermore, food and agriculture experts must play a larger role in all major decision-making and funding
Food waste is an externality of the entire food system, not a standalone issue. Solutions exist to recover and prevent waste at specific points in the supply chain (farms, stores, households, etc.), but, to fully solve the issue, we must contextualize them and integrate them within the entire system. Food insecurity, labor, immigration, accessibility, nutrition, and biodiversity are just some of the topics that can’t be left out of conversations around food waste solutions.
Not only must all sectors of our economy and society play a role in food waste solutions, but efforts need to be coordinated and transparent. Lofty goals and pacts made by federal governments can only be achieved through coordination with state and local governments, nonprofits, and private companies. One example of a great partnership is the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment (PCFWC), a public-private partnership featuring large, private food companies alongside local and state governments—all working collaboratively toward the common goal of preventing and reducing waste on the West Coast.
To end on a positive note, I must mention that the conference gave many of its participants hope that the problems of food waste will be resolved. Yet the time to act is now. Today, more people care about food waste on an individual and business level; more technological solutions exist, and more investors are pouring money into solutions than ever before. From technologies like Too Good to Go, preventing waste at the restaurant level, to our work at Full Harvest, helping farmers waste less in the fields, innovations on the market are making a real impact on reducing food waste throughout the supply chain. Investments in food waste solutions continue to increase, including $7.8 billion since 2011 and $2 billion in 2021 alone. The summit closed by announcing the launch of a new $100 million investment fund called the Circular Food Solutions funding platform, backed by ReFED and Closed Loop Partners.