Seven Areas for Taking Action to Reduce Food Waste

Seven Areas for Taking Action to Reduce Food Waste

February 11, 2021

Food waste is a systemwide problem, affecting all stages of the supply chain, so solving it will take a systemwide approach. ReFED’s Roadmap to 2030: Reducing U.S. Food Waste by 50% was designed to provide food businesses, governments, funders, and more with a framework around which to align their efforts.

The Roadmap to 2030 outlines seven key action areas to focus food waste reduction efforts over the next ten years. They align with the food recovery hierarchy of prevention (stopping waste from occurring in the first place), rescue (redistributing food to people when it’s at risk of going to waste), and recycling (repurposing waste as energy, agricultural, and other products). We’ve placed a focus on articulating prevention-related action areas, as they typically have the greatest financial and environmental impact compared to the investment required, yet have received less attention than rescue and recycling in the past.

The Roadmap to 2030’s key action areas are:

PREVENTION

Optimize the Harvest

Optimizing the harvest means aligning what is grown with what is ultimately harvested, by avoiding overproduction and then harvesting as much as possible. When it comes to wild-caught products, such as fish, some animals, and certain types of produce, it means sourcing only what’s needed. Solutions in this action area include finding new ways to sell and donate what’s left after harvest – such as developing innovative contract structures that don’t incentivize overproduction – and improving systems of communication that relay forecasted demands back up the supply chain to producers. Additionally, technological innovations that streamline individual, cross-sector, and cross-supply chain data-sharing could amplify the benefits. While these solutions manifest in less waste at the production level, the opportunities and responsibility to implement them lie across all supply chain actors. 

Enhance Product Distribution

Enhancing product distribution means maximizing freshness and selling time by harnessing the power of technology to create smart systems that efficiently move products to their destination. Solutions in this action area include technological tools – such as intelligent routing and sensors that aid in cold chain management – but these innovations must be situated within updated management procedures that prioritize remaining shelf life and intelligent routing practices that shorten transit times. These solutions lead to improved freshness and quality, so both suppliers and buyers have much to gain.

Refine Product Management

Refining product management means aligning purchases with sales as closely as possible, and when surplus arises, finding secondary outlets to accommodate it. It also means building out systems and processes for optimal on-site handling. Solutions in this action area employ tactics that simplify inventory management – such as dynamic pricing with artificial intelligence (to improve use of products in stock) and software that enhances future demand planning (to ensure that future product orders won’t lead to excess supply and waste). Product management solutions also include diversifying product outlets in case excess arises, establishing markets for last-minute products through alternative sales channels, and innovative new approaches such as markdown alert apps.

Maximize Product Utilization

Maximizing product utilization means designing facilities, operations, and menus to use the most of each product as possible. It also means rethinking the concept of “waste” by turning surplus and byproducts into food products through upcycling, which has opened new doors for innovation and investment. Solutions in this action area focus on using ingredients and products in their entirety, preventing waste through minimizing losses on a production line, extending product life, designing menus to use all product parts, and more. Some of this can be implemented through basic staff training, while other solutions involve the development of new food processing equipment. 

Reshape Consumer Environments

Reshaping consumer environments means driving consumers toward better food management and less waste by creating shopping, cooking, and eating environments that promote those behaviors. There’s also a big opportunity to shift our overall culture to place more value on food and to make sure that people truly understand the implications of food waste for our environment, economy, and more. Retail, foodservice establishments, and homes are environments where the narrative around food purchasing, consumption, and management can be shifted. In dining environments, solutions that encourage less wasteful consumption patterns can include offering smaller portion sizes, using smaller plates, or removing trays in efforts to minimize consumers taking more than they will eat. In shopping environments, solutions include integrating meal planning support into customer assistance or creating promotions that don’t promote over-purchasing. More broadly, awareness and education campaigns are an important solution to help shift our culture towards greater appreciation for our food and the resources that went into it.

RESCUE

Strengthen Food Rescue

Strengthening food rescue means furthering the rescue of high-quality, nutritious food by increasing the capacity of food relief agencies, addressing distribution bottlenecks, and improving communication flow. A stronger food rescue system requires expanded storage, transportation, and staffing capacity within food rescue organizations – as well as a consistent flow of goods from food business donations, which can be achieved from implementing solutions like business education or coordination and matching technologies that make food donation easier. The capture and sharing of real- or near-time data can play a key role in enabling more food to be donated and identifying gaps to fill. As solutions in this action area are implemented, it’s critical to maintain an emphasis on the health and dignity of the end recipients – the more than 50 million Americans currently struggling with food insecurity.

RECYCLING

Recycle Anything Remaining

Recycling anything remaining means capturing nutrients, energy, or other residual value by finding the highest and best use for any food or food scraps that remain. Solutions in this action area range from mature practices of feeding food scraps to livestock, to modern innovations such as insect farming. Solutions that make use of existing food for other creatures are preferable to the next category of recycling, which requires processes including composting, anaerobic digestion, and co-digestion at water treatment plants to break down the materials for their more basic nutrients. Alternatively, innovative markets for waste-derived bioplastics, agricultural inputs, and other industrial uses model the development of circular economies that can capitalize on existing wasted materials for new products, fuels, packaging materials, and more.

Within each of these action areas, the ReFED Insights Engine outlines a range of solutions for various food system stakeholders. We’ve also shown where funding is needed and provided included policy recommendations at the federal, state, and local levels.

It's our hope that the Roadmap to 2030 and Insights Engine serve as a data-driven playbook that can guide food waste reduction efforts over the next ten years. We’ll be continuously improving these resources over time, and welcome any data or feedback that can help us to do that.

ReFED is a national nonprofit working to end food loss and waste across the food system by advancing data-driven solutions to the problem. ReFED leverages data and insights to highlight supply chain inefficiencies and economic opportunities; mobilizes and connects people to take targeted action; and catalyzes capital to spur innovation and scale high-impact initiatives. ReFED’s goal is a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive food system that optimizes environmental resources, minimizes climate impacts, and makes the best use of the food we grow.

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