Show Sidebar Log in

Reducing Food Waste

Context within NORA

Relationships to Needs

Food – Food is a necessity for life. Unfortunately, it is estimated that about one-third of all food produced worldwide is wasted because of improper storage methods, unwillingness to eat imperfect foods, and a lack of knowledge about how excess food can be donated or composted.

Health – Our health depends on food; if much of it is wasted and food security is compromised, people may suffer from inadequate nourishment even though enough food for them exists nearby. People obtaining food that has been thrown away in unhygienic conditions (e.g., through dumpster-diving) may also compromise their health.

Water – In countries like the United States, it is estimated that about half of the water used to produce the food wasted goes to waste as well, since agriculture is the largest human use of water.

Supportive relationships – we express our support of others in part through sharing of food – a practice that can also be used to reduce the waste of food.


Relationships to Resources

Air – The wasteful production of foods leads to the unnecessary use of chemical pesticides, which is detrimental to the health of those exposed to them, and deadly to animals who were not the intended victims, such as birds and bees. Much of the food wasted ends up in landfills, and the rotting of food there produces methane which contributes to greenhouse gases and, in turn, climate change.

Water – An incredible amount of water is needed to produce food, so wasting food also contributes to wasting water.

Land – Millions of acres of land are needed to feed the world's population. This land is often deforested or degraded due to agricultural encroachment. Using all of the food we are already able to produce could result in less land needing to be cleared for crop cultivation.

Energy – Food production, processing, and transport requires the use of machines and automobiles. These must run on some sort of energy, typically forms derived from fossil fuels, the burning of which contributes greatly to greenhouse gas emissions.

Relationships to Organizational Forms

Self-provisioning cluster – Individuals can reduce food waste and its negative effects by avoiding unnecessary food purchases and buying only what they know they will use. There are also many resources available for those who have extra food (from, for example, their backyard garden) they want to donate. For the food waste that is created, individuals and families can use composting as a way to reduce the amount of organic matter that ends up in landfills and return nutrients to the soil.

Community solidarity cluster – Those who grow their own food can exchange food with others who grow something different. This way, one person will not waste their zucchini, for example, simply because they can’t eat it all. Instead, they can give their zucchini to others who may give them watermelon or strawberries when they have an excess of those.

Individual sales cluster – Businesses like restaurants and cinemas produce much unnecessary food waste, in the form of half-eaten dinner entrees, stale popcorn, etc. These types of businesses could reduce the amount of food that ends up in landfills by composting their food waste and perhaps working with local family farms that could use this waste instead of fertilizer to nourish their fields.

Committed sales or service cluster – Institutions such as schools, retirement homes, and hospitals produce an incredible amount of food waste from their cafeterias. There are already many schools, from primary schools to universities, that have implemented composting programs on their campuses, or that have encouraged students to take only what they know they can eat before coming back for seconds. Institutions like schools as well as businesses can form lasting relationships with compost collection services so that the food they may have otherwise wasted is put to use. When food waste is used for other things, like producing biogas, the collection of the waste would also fall into this category.

Free-knowledge cluster – Many people do not know how to reduce the amount of food they throw in the garbage, or how to compost their food waste and are not aware of organizations that can help them reduce their food waste.

Networks– Currently there are many networks available for people with an abundance of food that they cannot eat themselves. These networks allow people to connect with non-profit organizations or other families that could use the food they have available.


Understanding current patterns of abundance and scarcity

Food waste has become a serious problem worldwide. In less affluent countries, the problem usually lies in the early stages of the food value chain. Most food waste in those countries can be traced back to financial, managerial, and technical constraints in harvesting techniques, storage, and cooling facilities. Food is also not distributed in an equitable manner. In wealthier countries, most food is wasted later in the supply chain. It is estimated that about 40% of food is wasted in industrialized countries like the United States. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that U.S. households throw away 18% of grain, 17% of dairy products, 25% of seafood, 33% of meat, 20% of vegetables, and 15% of fruit. In broader terms, this means that approximately 25% of all freshwater, 4% of oil, and over 165 billion dollars annually go toward producing food that never gets eaten.

Though structural changes in less industrialized nations will be harder to make, citizens in countries of all income levels can easily make changes in their households to cut food waste when provided with free knowledge. Many towns and cities have composting programs that anyone can get involved in. People in houses with backyards can use their food waste to create compost in their own backyards. There are also many efforts to recover food that is wasted through programs that turn peoples’ extra food into meals for the homeless and hungry. Networking sites help people connect with others who have extra food from their farms, gardens, and refrigerators. In addition, it is important for citizens to recognize the root causes of why so much food is wasted. In the United States in particular, people are encouraged to buy things to support "the economy," so why would they not apply the same logic to food? In fact, buying food that is never eaten only hurts peoples' pocketbooks and the sustainability of the global food system.

There are also changes that need to be made at retail and institutional levels. Grocery stores often throw out food that is seen as imperfect or cosmetically unattractive, though it is perfectly edible. Unfortunately, many Americans have the idea that everything should look perfect, and that those products that do not fit that standard are not good enough. In a National Public Radio interview titled "The Ugly Truth About Food Waste", authors of books and articles on the topic describe this issue and others in detail. This food could be put on the supermarket shelves or donated to local organizations helping to feed the hungry. Restaurants could also make changes in their practices, as could diners. Portion sizes are ever-expanding, and it is not uncommon to see many entrees only halfway eaten on their way to the garbage can. Consumers can ask for smaller portions where applicable, restaurants can reduce the sizes of their meals, and the food that is left over can be composted. Some restaurants and retailers have already implemented these strategies, and they have been very effective. Institutions like schools have also jumped on board. Colleges and universities, in particular, have started and successfully maintained composting programs that collect food waste produced in cafeterias.

The fact that so much food is wasted points to the abundance we currently have. More efficiently making use of this abundance would result in less of the world’s limited resources being wasted, more people being fed, and more nutrients being kept in the soil.

Approaches to creating greater abundance


Hands for Hunger is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to eliminate hunger and reduce food waste in the Bahamas. They educate the community about food insecurity and strive to empower citizens to work towards a healthier community. They work toward this goal by partnering with local businesses, restaurants, bakeries, hotels, farms, and schools. They then are able to pick up extra food that would otherwise have been discarded and deliver it to their partner agencies that help feed the community. As of 2008, about 100 such social service agencies existed on the island. This program also benefits the partner agencies since pick-up is free of waste management or delivery costs. Hands for Hunger was started by volunteers and it is these volunteers who continue to be an important part of their organization and help with everything from office and reception work to hunger research.

Kirksville, Missouri

The Compost Project at Truman State University has been in action since 2004. It was formed from a relationship between environmentally-conscious students and faculty and Sodexo, the university's food provider. Now, every dining venue on campus has implemented a food scrap collection program. Students at the university work in the dining halls and student union building alongside Sodexo workers to collect food scraps, and their hours can go toward paying for their tuition through work-study or scholarship jobs. Each day, students transport the food waste collected to the university farm, where piles of food scraps, manure, and hay are combined and turned into compost. Approximately once every two weeks, students go to the farm to turn the compost and create new piles. The university also pays one student to be an intern for one year. Interns are in charge of training other students, setting up composting schedules, meeting with Sodexo workers, and generally making sure everything runs smoothly. Interns also get credit hours for doing their own "compost project". An example of a past project that is expanding is the Rot Riders program (which picks up the compost of Kirksville residents by bicycle once a week).

New York City

Hello Compost is a pilot program developed by like-minded individuals and students in the MFA Transdisciplinary Design program at Parsons The New School for Design in conjunction with Project Eats, a local network of urban farms. The program incentivizes collecting food waste for families, as they are given locally grown, fresh foods for each pound of compost they collect and return to specific Project Eats markets. The food waste they collect can be sold commercially, and this money helps fund the program.

United Kingdom

Feeding the 5000 is a campaign whose mission is to inspire people to address and correct the global issue of food waste. The organization was named for their most publicized event where 5000 people are given a free lunch using food that otherwise would have been thrown in the garbage. They partner with businesses, organizations, and governments not just in the United Kingdom, but around the world to help plan and carry out Feeding the 5000 events and spread the word and educate people about the global issue of food waste and how to prevent it.

Two of their main partners in the UK are The Gleaning Network and The Pig Idea. The Gleaning Network works to organize people to collect the food that would otherwise be wasted on UK farms and distribute it to community members in need. The Pig Idea project hopes to lift the ban on feeding catering food waste to pigs so that dependency on imported cereals can be reduced. Hugh Fearnley- Whittingstall, a proponent of the idea, says that "Pigs can be a highly effective recycling system, with the potential to turn a massive problem of food waste into a delicious solution. It's mad not to." Pigs were, in fact, domesticated in the first place to eat peoples' leftovers and convert it into food (i.e. pork and bacon). Currently, most pigs in Europe are fed cereal crops and soy from South America.  This translates into 8.3 million hectares of land being wasted to produce just the meat and dairy products wasted in UK and U.S. homes, shops and restaurants. The Pig Idea is working to change current legislation that puts a ban on feeding food waste from catering to pigs. This ban has been in place in the European Union since an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in pigs in 2001 that was thought to be due to feeding pigs catering waste. This organization also works to educate people on why feeding food waste to pigs is safe when done correctly, and also more environmentally and economically sustainable.

Washington, D.C.

D.C. Central Kitchen creates meals for the hungry by using leftover food. In 2012, they recovered more than 700,000 pounds of food and made 1.86 million meals that they distributed to partner agencies in the D.C. area. They also partner with local private schools, farmers, and restaurants to collect leftover and excess food that they use in their kitchens. In fact, they pay farmers higher prices than they receive from large processing companies, while simultaneously cutting transportation and packaging costs. But though the kitchen helps feed people, it is not a soup kitchen. Instead, the kitchen is used to to prepare the meals, which are then delivered to 88 partner agencies in the D.C. metropolitan area. With each meal delivered, they also deliver a message: "If you're ready to change your life, go to D.C. Central Kitchen." There they offer culinary job training classes, and have helped train over 1,000 unemployed, underemployed, previously incarcerated persons, and homeless adults for careers in the food service industry.

Related Links and Stories

The Compost Project at Truman States University

Feeding the 5000

Hello Compost

Hands for Hunger

D.C. Central Kitchen

How to Build a Compost Bin (

Anup Shah, 2005, Food Aid as Dumping. This article gives an overview of how food aid to poor nations can actually be detrimental to the environment and contribute to loss of biodiversity and an increase in food waste.

EPA ( This website provides basic information on the science behind composting as well as information on the different methods that can be used. It also provides a how-to guide on how to start your own compost pile.

Still Tasty-This website provides helpful information about the shelf life of a wide variety of foods, as well as tips on the best ways to store foods so that they do not go to waste.

Food Recovery Network-This organization helps college and university students learn how to recover food waste from their campuses and donate it to people in need.

Ample Harvest -This networking site, based in the United States, links gardeners with food pantries in their area.

State of Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection -This website includes a downloadable manual on how to establish and maintain composting programs in schools.


Bloom, Jonathan. American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food

                (and what we can do about it). Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2010. Print.

Humes, Edward. Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash. New York: Avery, 2012. Print.


United Nations Environment Programme Food Waste Quick Facts

Natural Resources Defense Council Food Facts

National Public Radio: The Ugly Truth About Food Waste

Discussion (0)

There are no comments for this doc yet.

Comment posting has been disabled on this doc.

Skip to toolbar