Is your organization looking for innovative ways to reduce waste? Why not try participating in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Challenge (FRC)? A key component of the EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Program, the FRC encourages businesses and institutions of all kinds to embrace sustainable food management by preventing and diverting wasted food in their operations.
Interested participants can sign up on the EPA website by first submitting baseline information about their current level of food waste and then setting a goal (along with specific actions) for reducing that waste. The program is easy to join and offers awards in a number of different categories. To be eligible for this year’s FRC, groups must submit their data and goals by March 31, 2017.
If you need a little extra inspiration, read on for profiles of some of the environmentally-minded organizations that won the FRC in 2016.
Sprouts Farmers Market
Strongly committed to zero food waste, the organic grocery chain Sprouts Farmers Market aims to promote sustainability in all aspects of getting food from the farm to the store, including soil and water management, sustainable packaging, and efficient transportation. As part of its FRC effort, Sprouts launched a Food Rescue Program that resulted in Sprouts stores all across the country donating more than 14 million pounds of healthy food to local hunger-relief agencies. The company diverted an additional 5.5 million pounds of food from the landfill, sending it instead to composting facilities and for use as animal feed at local farms.
A public charter school in Oahu, Hawaii, Lanikai School is currently entering its second full year as a 100% food waste recovery institution. Keen practitioners of the zero waste philosophy, Lanikai students at every grade level work together to collect, sort, and separate all organic waste generated by the school, including food waste from lunches and snacks, paper and cardboard, and yard waste.
Some of the processing technologies the school employs are highly innovative: for example, worms feed on kitchen preparation waste, mixed plate scrapings go into a hot compost array, and an anaerobic fermentation process known as bokashi fermentation handles heavy proteins. In 2015, these and other technologies helped Lanikai School transform 14,433 pounds of food waste into rich soil amendments, which it used to nourish its highly productive gardens. It also shared these products with other growers in the community.
Chumash Casino Resort
Located in California’s Santa Ynez Valley, the Chumash Casino Resort has set itself the goal of becoming a zero waste company by 2019. Not surprisingly for a hospitality establishment, better food waste management will be a major part of achieving this goal; the resort estimates that food waste makes up roughly 40% of its total waste stream at present.
In pursuit of its zero waste goals, the resort employs a pulper, a dehydrator, and a liquefier on-site to help with reducing and recycling food waste. The resort also partners with a local waste hauler and composting facility to streamline processing of its kitchen scraps and the bio-solids from the resort’s wastewater treatment plant.
Ortega National Parks and Carlsbad Caverns Trading Company
Dedicated to conserving and preserving America’s parks, these two organizations used data tracking and analysis to help reduce the amount of food they wasted. By scrutinizing guests’ dining choices and carefully measuring food waste on a monthly basis, Ortega National Parks and Carlsbad Caverns Trading Company were able to redesign their menus and servings in such a way as to limit food waste by guests, while still offering an appealing range of dining options. Vendor product selection and detailed inventory management also helped to prevent unnecessary food waste through spoilage.
Town of New Paltz
New Paltz, New York, has been a leading proponent of food recovery for several years, and participating in the FRC has solidified its reputation as a model for food recovery initiatives and small-capacity composters. Since 2012, the New Paltz ReUse and Recycling Center has been composting commercial food waste, diverting more than 1,380 tons of source separated food waste from the landfill over the years.
Local food chains in the town promote food recovery by donating consumable food to community soup kitchens and non-consumable food for use as animal feed. The town also works with the campus dorm of SUNY New Paltz to ensure that extra food finds its way from the campus to people in need.
With its long tradition of embracing and promoting sustainability, it’s not surprising that UC Davis launched a broad range of food waste reduction programs during its FRC participation. Some of its initiatives include the Just-Ask program, where students in the dining hall can ask to have unwanted ingredients removed from their dishes rather than simply throwing them away; the Try-A-Taste program, which gives diners the option to sample a dish before choosing a full serving; and interactive waste audits and educational displays that inform diners about how much edible food people waste during a typical meal period.