Millions of tons of food are wasted every year in developed countries and the United States is one of the worst offenders, with more than 40 percent of the food supply ending up in dumpsters and landfills rather than on people’s plates. Sadly, the problem has only been getting worse. In 2012, the United Nations was responsible for 35 million tons of wasted food, representing a 20 percent increase from 2000. In 1980, food accounted for 10 percent of U.S. total waste, but today, it accounts for over 20 percent, with Americans wasting more food than plastic, paper, metal or glass.

The issue of food waste is worse in developed countries, where many see food as expendable. But even in wealthy countries, people struggle with hunger. Over 805 million people worldwide suffer from food insecurity, yet enough food is produced to feed everyone on the planet. Furthermore, wasting food is both economically and environmentally unsustainable. Efforts that provide food that could have been wasted to those who truly need it are becoming increasingly important.

Feeding America is making a concentrated effort to eliminate food waste in the United Nations. They are the largest domestic hunger-relief organization in the United States, with a nationwide network of 200 food banks. Feeding America provides over 3.3 billion meals to 46 million people a year through its 600,000 food pantries and meal programs. Their latest initiative, Online Marketplace, is specifically intended to prevent food waste.

Launched in Feb. 2014, Online Marketplace utilizes technology to safely, quickly and effectively recover excess food from local food service outlets. By doing so, Feeding America hopes to reduce food waste while simultaneously providing more meals to people in need. It is primarily geared towards businesses like restaurants or bakeries, which handle perishable food in smaller quantities, therefore producing lots of waste while donating very little.

Online Marketplace directly connects potential donors to meal service programs and food pantries. First, new donors are educated on donation protocols, such as food safety guidelines and standard operating procedures. Next, they are connected with their nearest food bank, which directs them to local food pantries and meal programs to which they can directly donate. Distributors can then pick up food from the donor and transport it to local people in need as soon as possible, sometimes even making deliveries on the same day.

Currently, Online Marketplace is projected to recover 740 million more meals per year for people in need. Feeding America recently received a $1.6 million Google Global Impact Award for using technology to fight hunger. This money will allow the program to expand and feed even more people.

The Online Marketplace program could easily become a model for other developed countries to follow. If such programs catch on, redirecting food waste from the landfill to the dinner table could benefit millions worldwide. Educating those in the food service industry about food waste and simplifying their donation process will encourage more people to get involved in the ongoing battle against world hunger.

Jane Harkness

Sources: Feeding America 1, Feeding America 2, Feeding America 3, New York Times, Washington Post
Photo: City Fruit