- According to a multi-city study conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 68% of waste food in residential settings is potentially edible. This research was conducted via hundreds surveys and waste characterization digs in New York, Denver and Nashville, TN. The industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) sectors were also studied in each city.
- The average household surveyed was wasting 3.5 pounds of food per week — with fruits, vegetables and leftovers the most common items. Following households, restaurants and caterers were found to have the second-highest amounts of food waste in each city.
- Increased education and food recovery activity were among the report's top policy suggestions. In conjunction, the NRDC also released a second report on improving food rescue and eight case studies on successful city or institutional diversion programs.
The NRDC has been one of the leading organizations working on food waste by continually releasing new research and advocating for diversion or recovery policy at multiple levels of government. This latest round of research was announced last year and funded by nearly $1 million from The Rockefeller Foundation. Each of the three cities either had existing food waste diversion plans or interest in pursuing them. New York continues to expand organics collection, Nashville launched a multi-faceted food waste education campaign and Denver is seen as having big potential for composting, especially now that Colorado has its first-ever statewide diversion goals.
According to the NRDC report, future research is still needed to understand more nuanced factors behind waste at the residential and ICI levels. Among residential participants, the two most common reasons for wasting food were "inedible parts" or "moldy or spoiled." While some amount of organic waste can be expected in even the most carefully managed kitchens, this is seen as a sign that consumer education is still a prime area for mitigating the issue. The "Save the Food" campaign — run by the NRDC and the Ad Council — has been very focused on demystifying this process by giving consumers easy access to safe storage information or cooking tips to get more use out of kitchen scraps. Based on a recent survey, that campaign may have played a role in increasing food waste awareness and is becoming more well-known around the country.
As food waste reduction and diversion continues to gain prominence in cities, this type of research shows significant opportunity for solutions that don't involve expensive collection or processing infrastructure. Increasing food reduction awareness among residents and employees at food service establishments, or any other ICI site, lines up with the EPA's food recovery hierarchy and makes life easier for waste and recycling service providers that may not be set up for organics collection. In some cases, this can be facilitated by new legislation or regulation, as seen recently in California. In others, it may just be a matter of helping fast-paced city residents and service workers take the extra step to divert food for a better use rather than fall back on the easy option of disposal.