Food Recovery Hierarchy

Food Recovery Hierarchy

 Problem: On average, Americans waste 30-40% of their food.
Food recovery hierarchy chart.

Solution: Focus on reducing food waste by using the Food Recovery Hierarchy as a guideline.

What is the Food Recovery Hierarchy?

The EPA created the Food Recovery Hierarchy diagram (shown to the right) to discourage food waste in the United States as part of their goal to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. The most preferred methods of reducing food waste, starting with source reduction, begin at the top of the upside down-triangle and descend until the least preferred method of food waste, landfill/incineration. The EPA has encouraged businesses across the country to reduce food waste. Some larger companies have already made a huge impact.

How is the Food Recovery Hierarchy solving the problem?

The Food Recovery Hierarchy offers five viable solutions to the U.S. food waste problem: reducing the source, feeding hungry people, feeding animals, providing wasted food for industrial use, and composting. Several large companies have taken the initiative to reduce food waste by following the guidelines set out in this diagram. Below are examples for each of the five solutions from the EPA’s website:

  • “Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio implemented a successful food scrap recovery program in conjunction with other nearby venues such as Browns Stadium, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, and Progressive Field. By tracking their kitchen waste daily, they managed to reduce their monthly food composted from an average of 3.5 tons down to an average of 1.5 tons. Quicken Loans Arena also composted over 30 tons of food in 2011.”
  • “Hannaford Supermarkets is a full service grocer with 179 stores in the New England region. As a part of their commitment to sustainability and providing the best food to their customers, they implemented wasted food prevention strategies to reduce the amount of surplus food generated. Strategies include fresh truck deliveries every day instead of forecasting out orders and a computer-assisted ordering to order appropriately based on inventory and sales predictions.”

Feeding Hungry People Examples from the EPA’s website:

  • “Kroger reduces the amount of food waste in its grocery stores through its Perishable Donations Partnership (PDP) program. Through the PDP program, safe, wholesome meat, produce, eggs and dairy products are donated to local food banks that have the capacity to safely handle and distribute fresh food. In 2015, Kroger donated 56 million pounds of fresh food to local food banks.”
  • “In 2014, SAVOR….Chicago – McCormick Place South, the exclusive food and beverage provider at McCormick Place donated over 41,000 pounds of food to local charities including Pacific Garden Missions. More than 37 tons of food have been donated to local charities since it began its work at McCormick Place.”

Feeding Animals Examples from the EPA’s website:

  • “Rutgers University in New Jersey is a leader in keeping food scraps out of the landfill. The dining halls at Rutgers partners with a local farm, Pinter Farms. Pinter Farms collects about one ton of food scraps every day from Rutgers’ four main dining halls and feeds it to the farm’s hogs and cattle. Diverting food scraps to Pinter Farms costs Rutgers half the price of sending the scraps to the landfill.”
  • “MGM Resorts International has been reducing wasted food going to landfills since 2007. Many of their food scraps from Las Vegas Strip properties go to RC Farms, a pig farm with 3,000 pigs. RC Farms follows state requirements by cooking food scraps first before feeding them to the pigs.”

Using Food Waste for Industrial Purposes Examples from the EPA’s website:

  • “Purdue University turns wasted food into renewable energy by partnering with the City of West Lafayette to send food waste to the local wastewater treatment plant. At the wastewater treatment plant, the food is added to the anaerobic digester, where it is processed by microbes to generate biogas, a source of renewable energy, and a solid residual that can be used as a soil amendment.”
  • “The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh started turning organic materials into renewable energy in fall 2011 with a dry fermentation anaerobic digester. The first of its kind in the nation, this facility uses agricultural plant waste, City of Oshkosh yard waste, and wasted food generated on campus to produce biogas. The digester produces enough energy to power up to 10 percent of the 13,500-student institution.”

Composting Food Waste Examples from the EPA’s Website:

  • “Petco Park, home to the San Diego Padres, implemented a food composting program in 2005 helping the venue to save money on its trash disposal bills. In 2011, Petco Park diverted 164 tons from landfill, saving $75,000 since 2005.”
  • “Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont initiated a food waste composting program in 1993. Middlebury College used to haul the food scraps offsite, but now have a site on campus where they compost 90 percent of the food waste generated or 370 tons in 2011. In 2011, Middlebury saved over $100,000 in landfill fees by recycling and composting.”

What are some issues with the solutions presented by the Food Recovery Hierarchy?

Although the solutions presented by the Food Recovery Hierarchy help with sustainability and, in some cases, profitability, there can be high costs associated with implementing these projects. Many of the companies mentioned above, however, have no issue paying these costs. In the long term, these projects will likely be beneficial to a company’s image, mission, and bottom-line.

What’s the environmental impact of the Food Recovery Hierarchy?

By lessening food waste, we can reduce the amount of methane gas in the atmosphere. Food waste contributes to 18% of methane gas released in landfills. Even composting, second-to-last on the chart, is an environmentally-friendly method of reducing food waste. By composting old food, not only can we reduce the methane gas caused by food waste in landfills, but we can use the compost to restore environments significantly harmed by soil contamination. Another one of the methods mentioned that can significantly help the environment is using food waste for industrial purposes. For example, liquid fats and solid meat products can be used as raw materials for producing animal foods, cosmetics, and soap. Fats, oils, and grease can also be used for creating environmentally friendly biodiesel fuel.