March 23, 2011 | General

Stepping Up To The Food Recovery Plate

BioCycle March 2011, Vol. 52, No. 3, p. 44
Food insecurity is a crisis in the United States, with one out of every six Americans lacking access to, or resources for acquiring, enough food. USEPA’s Food Recovery Challenge helps to connect wasted food to hungry people.
Janice Sitton

IN the U.S., 34 million tons of food waste were generated in 2009 – 14 percent of the country’s total waste stream, and the third largest portion, following two other organic waste streams: paper and yard trimmings. Less than three percent of food waste, or one million tons, was recovered for reuse and recycling in 2009. The rest, 33 million tons, went straight to the landfill or was incinerated.
During the same time period, over 50 million Americans – 14 percent of American households – were food insecure. That is one out of every six Americans. When a person is food insecure, it means that they do not have access and/or the resources to enough food to support an active, healthy life. Many in this group were hungry too.
To address the disparity between food being wasted and the percentage of the population that is food insecure in America, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the Food Recovery Challenge in partnership with WasteWise (an EPA program that assists organizations and businesses with eliminating MSW and select industrial wastes generated) in the fall of 2010. The Challenge comes with a hierarchy (Figure 1) establishing the highest and best use for foods that would otherwise be wasted, starting with source reduction and feeding hungry people.
“We actually started a food recovery program with the USDA in 1998/99, but EPA revitalized this effort in the last couple of years as we continued to see food waste and hunger rates in the U.S. climb,” explains Jean Schwab of EPA, who is heading up the program. “With the Food Recovery Challenge, we are trying to work upstream more, to reduce the creation of food waste in the first place. We want to see food going to feed people – not landfills.”
Eligible program participants include government agencies, food processors, restaurants, businesses, venues, etc. To sign up, participants are required to conduct a food waste audit, select and implement three specific waste reduction activities, create a food recovery plan, and report on their progress using the WasteWise ReTRAC System. The waste reduction activities must include at least one in the Source Reduction category and one in the Donation and Reuse category. Participants may select a third activity from any of the categories, which includes composting.
To date, 16 organizations have signed up for the Challenge. Many are also WasteWise members. The Food Recovery Challenge website provides all the tools that organizations need to meet the requirements, and there is no charge to participate. This article profiles six of the 16 participants, highlighting their success in food reduction and recovery thus far.

Chumash Casino Resort
The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians’ Chumash Casino Resort, located in Santa Barbara County, California. conducted an analysis of the property’s waste stream in 2005. The study indicated only 6 percent of materials were being recycled. “Once we realized how low our recycling rate was, the facilities department decided to challenge ourselves to increase the recycling rate each year,” says Mark Funkhouser, the Resort’s Custodial Services Manager. “We are now recycling 55 percent of our waste stream. We also realized that about 47 percent of our waste comes from the food services areas on property, so we decided to look at what we could do differently to focus on this waste stream too.”
Now the Chumash Casino Resort uses a color-coded bag system to keep its paper and food scraps separate from other resort materials. The bags go into a trash compactor, and the hauler, Marborg Industries, uses the color-coded bag system to recover the paper and food scraps generated on property. The organics go to Engel & Gray in Santa Maria for composting. “We are now taking things a step further to try and reduce the plastics and individual packages, like dairy creamers, out of the food service waste,” adds Funkhouser. “We want to move away from individual servings to bulk servings, but are doing this gradually so we don’t get backlash about the program from our staff and guests.” For more information, visit or contact Mark Funkhouser at 805-686-3869.

Grand Hyatt New York
The Grand Hyatt New York in Manhattan started participating in EPA’s WasteWise Program in 2007. It learned about the Food Recovery Challenge during a WasteWise meeting last year, and signed up to participate in that program as well. Source separation of food scraps for composting began in July 2010, and the hotel has diverted over 68 tons since then. The Grand Hyatt New York allocated space in the dock area, indicated by a green square, for the compost storage carts. They are collected on a nightly basis and processed by a local composter in New Jersey. Approximately 21 50-gallon compost bins are located throughout the three kitchens on the property to capture the food scraps separated from other waste.
The Grand Hyatt New York is also resourceful in repurposing event foods that meet the New York City Department of Health’s regulations and are checked and meet the approval of the head chef. “Typically, a hotel must prepare a certain amount of extra food when serving a plated lunch or dinner, ensuring that last minute guests will be able to enjoy the meal too,” explains Diana Beltran, the Grand Hyatt New York’s Corporate Social Responsibility Manager. “Unfortunately, this can lead to a lot of leftover food, sometimes as much as 10 percent of the total served. When possible, we make these leftovers available for the staff to enjoy in the employee cafeteria. Any other food scraps, whether from events or the employee cafeteria, are composted.”
The Grand Hyatt New York also has a robust reuse program. Typically, hotels install a fresh roll of toilet paper each time a room is turned. The Grand Hyatt New York has partnered with local shelters to make partial toilet paper rolls, tissue boxes and toiletries from the rooms available to those in need. The hotel reduces its disposal costs and the shelters avoid the cost of buying these basic necessities for families in need. For more information, contact Diana Beltran at

Mel Trotter Ministries
Located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Mel Trotter Ministries was already in the “business” of repurposing food for the hungry before the Food Recovery Challenge was implemented. They receive food donations from area businesses to provide 500 to 700 meals/day to the hungry and homeless in the area, and food from their pantry to another 100 families. Sometimes, however, the donations would outpace their ability to use the food.
“We didn’t want to turn food away, but often had more than we could use at our own Ministry and pantry before it expired,” says Michael Merren, Director of Food Service and Pantry Operations. “We worked to create a network of other food pantries and smaller rescue missions in the western Michigan area that we could send our excess food to, and timed distribution so they could use the food donations before they expired.”
Historically, Mel Trotter Ministries generated approximately 11 tons of waste every three weeks, most of which was food. Since creating this second tier food donation network, and source separating food that could not be donated before it expired, they now only produce three dumpsters of waste per year. A separate 4 cubic yard (cy) food waste dumpster is picked up daily; materials go to a composter in Ada, Michigan, which also accepts napkins and milk cartons to help absorb the liquids.
In addition to feeding the hungry, the extended food recovery and composting program has had additional benefits. “We used to pay an average of $1,100 every two to three weeks to have the trash dumpster removed,” Merren says. “Now, we can have the food scraps pulled five days a week for $350/month, and only need to have the trash dumpster pulled every four to five months.” For more information, contact Michael Merren at

Rock and Wrap It Up!

Rock and Wrap It Up! has been tackling the issue of hunger in America since 1991. Founded by Syd Mandelbaum, the nonprofit organization initially began working with rock bands to make edible, leftover foods available to shelters. Since then, Rock and Wrap It Up! has expanded its food recovery program to encompass six sectors: Music, Sports, Entertainment, Hotels, Schools and Education and Advocacy. “We were the first green charity to keep food from rock concerts out of the landfill,” says Mandelbaum. “Our mantra is simple: Reduce the planet’s poverty footprint by reducing society’s carbon footprint. We believe that an environmentally sound planet doesn’t mean it is a healthy planet. It is only a healthy planet if the people are healthy.”
Rock and Wrap It Up! vets each antipoverty/hunger agency it works with to ensure donated foods will be handled in a safe manner, stored in approved NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) equipment, and that the agencies have the appropriate communications and transportation in place to handle the donations. “We work to protect the donors of the food along with the people who will eat it,” explains Mandelbaum.
Since its inception, Rock and Wrap It Up! has collaborated with over 70 sports franchises, 150 bands and performers, 20 hotels, dozens of TV shows and films, and 200 schools. Over 500 million pounds of food have been collected, feeding over 750 million people. Millions of pounds of toilet paper and toiletries have also been kept from the landfill. “The more assets we give agencies fighting poverty for free, the more money they have to attack the root causes of poverty,” says Mandelbaum. The organization is working on a new project: Hungerpedia, the first antipoverty website in the world. It is scheduled to be launched later this year, and include a list of agencies in need of donations by location as well as by need. For more information, visit or call 1-877-691-FOOD.

St. Louis Cardinals
In 2008, major league baseball made a push to green the sport after the National Resources Defense Council, which works as a consultant with the baseball industry, showed them the impact baseball games can have on the planet. The St. Louis Cardinals literally stepped up to the plate, and started tracking the amount of trash and recyclables being produced at the stadium.
In 2009, the Cardinals joined EPA’s WasteWise Program to further track and report its waste reduction initiatives. The team also started a food donation program in April 2010, working with Operation Food Search, a food broker agency that connects food producers with agencies that feed the hungry. From April through December, the Cardinals were able to donate 14.83 tons of food to local shelters (a value of almost $105,000). “The staff gets so excited about recovering food at the stadium to help others in the community,” says Hosei Maruyama, Manager of Stadium Operations. “It gives them a sense of pride knowing that what they are doing is helping those that are less fortunate, and the excess food is not going to waste.”
The Cardinals took things a step further when it received a grant from the St. Louis Jefferson County Solid Waste Management District to implement a pilot composting collection program in September 2010. The Cardinals now collect food scraps and prep materials from the main kitchens on property, which service the suites and club areas of the stadium. From September to December last year, 8.67 tons of compostables were collected from these kitchens. In addition, 16.35 tons of fryer oils were recycled, which are used to make biofuel.
“We hope to expand the composting program to include the concession areas in 2011, and may further expand to collect compostable materials from attendees in the future,” adds Maruyama. “It is all about being efficient with the resources that we use. We do save money by not sending our waste to the landfill, but we are really doing this because it is the right thing to do.” For more information, contact Hosei Maruyama at
University of Tennessee at Martin
The University of Tennessee at Martin (UT Martin) has made remarkable progress in the category of Source Reduction of food waste on campus, and in composting the remaining food scraps generated. It all started when Dennis Kosta, long time employee and custodial manager, implemented a recycling program in 1991. That first year, 52 tons were recovered for recycling. In 2010, over 550 tons were recycled.
The campus is an agricultural college, with plenty of sawdust and straw from animal stalls available for composting. An average of 600 to 800 lbs/day of food scraps from the cafeteria were being generated. Two years ago, Kosta partnered with Sodexo, the university’s foodservice provider, to implement a composting program and provide an educational opportunity for the agriculture students.
In January 2010, UT Martin decided to reduce the food waste coming out of the cafeteria by implementing a trayless lunch system. The cafeteria serves approximately 2,400 meals/day to 1,850 students on the meal plan. Instead of receiving a tray that would hold several plates of food, students now obtain one plate to receive the food offerings of the day. This simple change reduced food waste by 400 to 600 lbs/day.
“The trays allowed students to take two or three plates versus one, and most of that food ended up being wasted,” says Charles Thomas, Sodexo’s General Manager. “With the trayless system, students can still eat as much as they want, but our food waste has been reduced by two-thirds. This has resulted in savings across the board, from the purchase of food, to water usage and staff time required to clean the extra plates.” He noted that utility costs have been cut in half due to the reduced dish washing required.
UT Martin also has taken the recycling and composting message into local elementary schools. “It is great to watch the kids,” says Kosta. “When they get on board, the parents do too.” For more information, contact Dennis Kosta at or Charles Thomas at

Janice Sitton, owner of Good Green Graces based in Asheville, North Carolina, supports the composting industry by providing research services, project management, education and outreach development, and set-up of new food scrap collection programs. She can be reached at

Sidebar p. 46
TO gain a first-hand look at food recovery in action, I decided to check out food recovery in my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. The Crème Patisserie and Confectionery prepares fresh breads daily at its North Asheville location, in addition to fresh pies, tarts, pastries, truffles and other offerings. To prevent the leftover breads from going to waste, bakery owners Jennifer Jacobs and Jitra Neal contacted MANNA FoodBank in Asheville, the local Feeding America Agency, to make them available. “As a new, small business, we don’t have extra money to make monetary donations to local charities,” says Jacobs. “The bread donations allow us to contribute to our community in a different way.”
George Williams, a driver for MANNA FoodBank, picks up approximately 42 pounds of bread from Crème twice a week during his collection route. The bread goes to the food bank’s central warehouse, where it is entered into an inventory system and made available to over 255 agencies in the 16 Western North Carolina (WNC) counties that provide food for the hungry. The agencies place their orders for available inventory online, and either pick up the food from the warehouse or receive the delivery from MANNA FoodBank directly. Each agency pays a shared maintenance fee of $0.09 to $0.18/lb of food to help cover transportation, warehousing and inventory costs.
Libby Barker, Donor Relations Coordinator for MANNA Food Bank, further explains the process. “Since we don’t have a lot of large food producers in our region, we really depend on the 60 regular food donors in our area. We also receive bulk food deliveries from Feeding America and from larger food banks, which have close to a 1,000 regular donors each, to fulfill all our food bank needs.” In 2010, MANNA FoodBank distributed 9.1 million pounds of food in WNC, enough to provide 20,000 meals per day all year long. For more information, contact Jennifer Jacobs with Crème at cremeasheville@ or Libby Barker with MANNA FoodBank at

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