EPA Tips: Feed People, Not Landfills

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A freshman from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia serves up meals to hungry neighbors at a local community table. Photo: Flickr/SJU Undergraduate Admissions

The U.S. EPA estimates that around 35 million tons of food waste was generated in 2010, 97 percent of which was thrown away in landfills or incinerators. At the same time, more than 14 percent of American households were food insecure, meaning they did not know where their next meal would come from.

Through its new campaign “Feed People, Not Landfills,” the EPA is looking to connect people and businesses who have excess food with hungry families in need – helping communities, saving money and reducing food waste.

“Much of the food that is discarded in landfills is actually safe, wholesome food that could have been used to feed people,” the EPA said.

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The EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy displays the most preferred and least preferred methods for dealing with food waste. Photo: EPA

To keep edible food out of landfills and bring it to people in need, the EPA is calling on businesses, such as grocers, universities, stadiums and other venues, to take part in the Food Recovery Challenge by changing up their business models to reduce waste at its source, then donate leftovers to local food banks, shelters and other services.

But managing the nation’s food waste problem isn’t only a task for businesses. Consumers also play a key role in the process, and the EPA offers loads of helpful tips to help you cut back at home.

“The best way to reduce food waste is to not produce that waste to begin with by finishing the food you already have first, and then only buying and preparing what you need,” an EPA spokesperson told Earth911.

To avoid contributing to staggering food waste totals, the agency recommends that consumers plan meals before heading to the supermarket to avoid unnecessary purchases and preserve perishable food before it spoils.

Back to Basics: Reduce Food Waste in 5 Easy Steps

The EPA also encourages donations of wholesome, untouched food to those in need. Businesses can head to the agency’s Prepared Food Donations page for helpful donation guidelines, while consumers can reach out to nonprofits in their own communities to donate excess food.

How to donate:

The best way to donate unwanted food is to connect with a food bank or food rescue program in your area. Here are some helpful resources to help you track down nonprofits and community groups near you:

  • Feeding America: Feeding America is a national network of food banks that is the largest hunger relief organization in America. It oversees the distribution of surplus food through nearly 200 affiliate food banks and nearly 50,000 charitable agencies.
  • Food Pantries: This database allows you to search for food banks by state or by ZIP code.
  • AmpleHarvest.org: This nationwide effort aims to educate, encourage and enable gardeners with extra produce to easily donate to a local food pantry.
  • Rock and Wrap It Up!: This independent anti-poverty organization is devoted to developing innovative greening solutions to the pressing issues of hunger and poverty in America. They cover more than 500 cities and work with a national database of more than 43,000 shelters and places of need.

Donation guidelines:

Non-perishable and unspoiled perishable food can be donated to local food banks, soup kitchens, pantries, shelters and other food rescue programs in your area. Food bank donors are typically businesses or community groups, but in most cases consumers can also donate surplus food.

Food rescue programs usually make decisions about what food is accepted and from who on a program-by-program basis. One local food bank may gladly accept your untouched perishables, while others may prefer non-perishable items, such as canned goods.

Call ahead to your local food bank or food rescue program to find out if they accept consumer donations and what types of food are accepted. For food that can’t be consumed by humans, always remember to compost rather than tossing it in the trash.

More Ways to Give Back: 10 Things to Recycle for Charity

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