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$14 Billion Each Year Delivers $73 Billion in Annual Net Economic Benefit – And More

ReFED’s analysis of current financial and industry data shows that an annual investment of $14 billion over the next ten years can reduce food waste by 45 million tons each year. That investment would result in $73 billion in annual net financial benefit – a five-to-one return. Plus, every year, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75 million metric tons, save 4 trillion gallons of water, and recover the equivalent of 4 billion meals for those in need. Over ten years, it would create 51,000 jobs – and achieve the United States's national goal of a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030. Capital providers of all types are recognizing the critical role that their funding can play in launching and scaling for-profit and nonprofit food waste reduction solutions – along with the potential economic return on their investment. This page provides updates on recent funding highlights and an overview of how catalytic capital can lead to a multiplier effect for more funding.

The Critical Role of Catalytic Capital to Drive Impact

While the majority of financing required to scale food waste reduction solutions is expected to come from traditional market sources, there is an equally important and crucial role for catalytic capital. We estimate that $3 billion per year of catalytic capital would unlock an additional $11 billion of further investment.

Catalytic capital tends to be first money-in, thereby having a multiplier effect that stimulates larger amounts of future funding and helps overcome system-level barriers. According to The MacArthur Foundation, catalytic capital is “investment capital that is patient, risk-tolerant, concessionary, and flexible in ways that differ from conventional investment” and “is an essential tool to bridge capital gaps and achieve breadth and depth of impact, while complementing conventional investing.” 

Catalytic capital often includes Non-Government Grants, Government Grants, and Impact-First Investments. Additionally, incubators, accelerators, and challenge platforms that provide funding – as well as seed/angel rounds – can be considered catalytic.

Non Government Grants

Non-government grants – such as those from high-net worth individuals, family offices, foundations, and donor-advised funds – are defined as concessionary, philanthropic capital used to support initiatives that lack a market-based application (profit motive) and may also play the role of “first capital in” for solutions perceived to have high risk. This form of capital is particularly impactful when used to fund the development of initial ideas; the scaling or pivoting of solutions that aren’t profit-driven; or funding vital operating costs for nonprofit initiatives. 

Government Grants

Government grants are considered to be concessionary, philanthropic capital at the federal, state, and/or local level that can support initiatives often lacking a market-based application or do not yield direct, monetizable benefits (longer-term projects with higher positive externalities, such as consumer education programs). This funding may play the role of “first capital in” for solutions that are perceived to be high risk. Government grant programs can be highly impactful when funding nonprofit and for-profit solutions that support the public good.

Impact-First Investments

Impact-First Investments are willing to accept more risk or potentially lower returns in pursuit of measurable social and/or environmental impact. Investors can offer lower-cost sources of financing to enable projects that may eventually attract more traditional sources of capital, but that require upfront capital and reliable cash flow to prove the the solution’s economics to future paying customers. Impact-First Investments are highly impactful for social enterprises, infrastructure projects, early-stage innovations, and nonprofits testing earned income models. 

The Importance of Catalytic Capital

  • De-risking New Innovations – Startups need early-stage funding, subsidized pilots, or flexible debt to demonstrate they are effective in real-world settings to attract follow-on private investment.
  • De-risking Novel Projects – Any project with a first-of-its-kind component faces an extra risk premium. Low-interest debt or credit enhancements can help get these projects deployed and de-risked to lower the cost of future financing.
  • Unlocking Bottlenecks – Some types of infrastructure projects struggle to attract funding due to marginal profit margins, but they are critical to lowering costs for the system as a whole. Trucks and storage facilities, for example, are bottlenecks within the recovery and recycling ecosystems.
  • Overcoming Agency Problems – Some solutions fail to get funded because no one stakeholder benefits enough to justify the costs, such as various recycling projects or Standardized Date Labeling. Catalytic capital shifts the economics so other stakeholders are incentivized to invest.
  • Stimulating Marginal Projects – Many projects with valuable social and environmental benefits are not financed due to marginal profitability. Catalytic capital can shift the economics of these projects above the necessary hurdle rate to attract market-rate financing. That said, it is important to note that this can have negative market distorting effects if not deployed properly.

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