- As part of a broader effort to decrease food waste and mitigate residents’ food insecurity, Jersey City, New Jersey, announced Thursday it’s launching a citywide initiative focused on diverting food from local businesses that might otherwise get thrown out.
- The city’s Department of Public Works, which manages composting, and the Department of Health and Human Services, which manages food and nutrition, is receiving technical assistance and grant support from the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, and working with the consultancy Center for EcoTechnology to map the city’s network of organizations involved in food rescue.
- The initiative entails assembling a better data picture of who is involved in food rescue, to eventually determine how resources could be redistributed, city officials explained. Efforts also aims to educate businesses on how to minimize waste and boost rescue, while decreasing costs related to refrigeration, water, storage and waste removal.
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a “considerable spike in food insecurity,” said Alexander Mirescu, who is managing the project within HHS. “It was high time that we really had a solid review over all the different NGOs or community groups that are engaged in food rescue,” Mirescu said. “There are a lot of different actors and stakeholders who are wanting to make a positive impact on food insecurity. And so it's imperative for us to get a really good idea of who's out there.”
Jersey City is part of NRDC’s Food Matters Regional Initiative, in which the organization says it works with participating cities to estimate food waste generation and food rescue potential, while providing technical assistance “to bolster their broader food systems, sustainability, and climate goals.” NRDC is funding the mapping initiative led by the Center for EcoTechnology, city officials explained.
Lorenzo Macaluso, CET’s chief growth officer, said the center’s role in the partnership is to interview food pantries, soup kitchens, distributors and the like to better understand strengths and weaknesses of current systems. After analyzing trends, CET will produce a report with recommendations and strategies going forward. CET has done similar work in places like Philadelphia and Providence, Rhode Island, Macaluso said.
Macaluso noted the benefits of collaboration between city waste and food leaders and beyond. “The more cross-departmental representation you're having in the process, the higher likelihood of success, and the higher likelihood that it becomes institutionalized in the fabric of the city, beyond our engagement, so that's definitely really encouraging from our perspective,” Macaluso said.
The city said that six months of its composting program — across dropoff, farmers market and backyard sites, according to officials — amounts to $1 million in savings from diverting and reducing food waste, which Mirescu said benefits the municipal budget due to lower hauling needs. Jersey City has also worked to incorporate vertical farming as a food solution for the city.
Last year, a state law took effect requiring commercial sites that require 52 tons or more of food waste per year to arrange for organics recycling. A separate law also created a state task force focused on areas such as food waste reduction and donation.
The city expects to have preliminary findings from the mapping initiative in the coming weeks, and a report with recommendations in late September which will inform the city’s goals related to food waste diversion going forward, Mirescu said.