By Amanda Beland
It’s Sunday and you’ve made your way to the grocery store for your weekly shopping trip. Your first stop is the produce department where you spy the banana table from a mile away. As you approach the section, your eyes immediately skip over the bananas with brown spots to the slightly green, not-so-ripe ones.
Moments after you leave, a grocery store employee removes the browned fruit from the shelves and tosses them into the trash.
This is a common practice at grocery stores. For years, brown and bruised fruit and vegetables, as well as food not sold by their “sell by” dates, were tossed in the trash, even if the food itself wasn’t actually spoiled.
However, a new movement in food waste management is looking to adjust this notion.
Food rescue organizations have been popping up across the country, in places like New York and Colorado. The idea is simple: save the food before it hits the trash and give it to those who need it.
Here in Massachusetts, the concept is new and still developing as a viable option for feeding the hungry and avoiding the dreaded landfill.
Food Waste: A Growing Trend
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection estimates the state throws away close to 5 million tons of trash each year. About a quarter of that total – 1.2 million tons – is organic waste, which includes yard waste like leaves and tree trimmings, but also food waste from grocery stores, restaurants and homes. Unless diverted, most of this organic waste heads straight to landfills.
Massachusetts law makers have set a goal to divert 450,000 tons of food waste away from incinerators and landfills by the year 2020.
Division Director of Business Compliance at Mass DeP Greg Cooper says the state is working to organize various forms of infrastructure to meet this goal. These include composting operations and the conversion of organic waste into renewable in a process known as anaerobic digestion.
However, Cooper said the process for diverting food waste doesn’t necessarily start with these operations.
“Our hierarchy starts with utilize good food to feed people,” Cooper said. “We have been working and promote the recovery of usable food waste. There’s a pretty strong infrastructure in the state that supermarkets and other food generators are actually already utilizing through food banks and food rescues. The first thing should be is there any food here that we can be donating to those that need it and then proceed to the chain down to animal feed and then down to composting and anaerobic digestion.”
Save it Before You Trash It
Lovin’ Spoonfuls Rescues More Than Just Food
Lovin’ Spoonfuls is the largest food rescue program in Boston. Each week, three “rescuers” drive to various grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses throughout the metro-Boston area and pick up products that would have otherwise been thrown away.
“It’s things that happen when food just sits out on shelves for a couple of days,” said Lauren Palumbo, Operations Manager for Lovin’ Spoonfuls. “You know, when bananas are a little bit brown then people are most likely not going to buy that. Also, some stores have policies against selling them once they start to turn a little bit brown. So it’s about them upholding their quality standards as well as meeting consumer demand.”
Food rescuer Meg Kiley said the products she picks up depend on the day, but usually ranges from fruits and vegetables to prepared foods to fresh meat to day-old bread.
“We’ll take pears that are kind of squishy, that they won’t sell in the store because on the shelf they want the pear to be, before it’s ripe, to be hard,” said Meg Kiley, a food rescue driver at Lovin’ Spoonfuls. “So we’ll get all the soft pears that are good for eating. And even pears beyond that – just using pears as an example. There are a lot of different kinds of fruit, you know they can be sliced up and put into a pie or they can be used in different cooking. So we’ll really take it up to the point of its last legs, but it’s still good to eat.”
Once food has been picked up, the rescuers then deliver it to designated beneficiaries throughout the region including shelters, food pantries and other agencies that provide services to populations in need.
“It’s everything from really large-scale homeless shelters… to very small women’s safe houses… and everything in-between,” said Palumbo. “Any organization that is a 501c3 that is addressing some population that may not otherwise have access to food is really our only qualifier in terms of identifying beneficiaries.”
Palumbo said the drivers average about 15,000 pounds of food each week in all three trucks. Since founded in 2010, the organization has picked up and delivered 800,000 pounds of food.
“Usually I’ll see 1,500 pounds; I think at this point, that’s about average,1,500 per day,” said Kiley. “I can show you a photo I took last week that I put up on Instagram just the back of truck all loaded up and it was um – you could just see the truck is full. which is always good… I think my truck will be pretty consistently full soon. “
Although founder Ashley Stanley originally started the organization primarily to put a dent in the amount of food thrown away in thestate, the venture’s purpose has evolved over the years.
“That’s where we started was addressing the food waste issue and trying to kinda find a way to take it out of the landfills, “ said Palumbo, “but the happy accident there is that we get to bring it to people who need it and we’re happy to have that,” Palumbo added, “Our tagline is, ‘There’s enough food out there, let’s go get it’ because we are producing enough calories to feed the entire world. There’s something like 2,700 calories per day per person produced based on current food production and that’s more than anyone actually needs. but, it’s not getting to the right people.”
To find out more information about the state’s efforts to cut down on food waste, visit the Mass DEP Waste and Recycling page.
Interested in finding out more about Lovin’ Spoonfuls and other similar food rescue organizations? Visit the Mass DEP Organics and Food Materials website to find fact sheets, organization names and contact information and tips for disposing of organic waste in sustainable ways