Food Waste – Moving Toward Greater Sustainability by Recovering Perfectly Good Food

One of the greatest challenges facing the world will be how to feed the 9 billion people anticipated to be on Earth by 2050.  There are essentially 3 major approaches that can be used to improve the likelihood that we will be able to meet the most basic of human rights, the right to food:

  1. Increase the productivity per unit of land on a global scale (science has helped accomplish this over the past century but by 2050, this challenge will be too great for this approach).
  2. Increase the quantity of land/space on which agriculture practices can take place (this essentially means deforestation, which has significant negative environmental ramifications).
  3. Reduce the level of food that is currently and unnecessarily wasted (recent awareness of just how much food is wasted nationally and worldwide makes this an option through which significant progress can be made).

Food Recovery HierarchyWithin the United States, 40% of the food produced becomes waste.  This amounts to more than 133 billion pounds of food annually and 97% of this amount ends up in landfills.  This can occur because of over-production, cancelled contracts, poor cold chain management, non-ideal sizes and shapes of fruits/vegetables, failed quality control goals, over-shopping by consumers, confusion resulting from inconsistent date label messages, lack of portion control, and/or lack of creativity in the kitchen. The environmental impact of wasted food is significant as well.  Every item of food that is discarded requires farmland, water, and fertilizer for its production; these resources are lost each time food is wasted.

What Can Be Done?

A significant amount of food that is currently wasted can be recovered to feed hungry people, supplement livestock diets, produce bioenergy, or compost as a soil amendment.  The US Environmental Protection Agency has developed a “Food Recovery Hierarchy” which is a prioritized list of approaches for minimizing food waste and using recovered food in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.

Food waste and the various levels at which it can be considered, from production to consumption, provides an ideal topic for UConn students to engage with.  Millennials are generally interested in making a difference in society, and reduction of food waste is a cause with which everyone can become involved.  Our goal is to raise the level of awareness about food waste among members of our University community and provide educational opportunities for students to learn more about this issue within the context of their curricular and co-curricular experiences.

We encourage students to learn more about food waste during the fall 2016 semester.  On September 21, the Department of Dining Services will prepare a free “Tasty Waste Lunch” from food that was destined to be discarded.  This will include day-old bakery items, ice cream that lacks the ideal quantity of air or inclusions (e.g., nuts, chocolate pieces), excess fruit and vegetables gleaned from farm fields, and other items that approached sell-by dates.

The lunch will be a celebration of a safe and nutritious meal from food that would have otherwise been wasted, and the seminars will provide important information about the breadth of the challenge, potential solutions and how people can make a difference.

Food Waste Schedule

Additional Resources:

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
US Department of Agriculture (USDA)
US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP)
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
Food Loss & Waste Protocol
Food Waste Reduction Alliance


Cameron Faustman

Jillian Ives

College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources

August 2016