By Joyce Huang, Dietetic Intern, Cal Poly SLO
Staying sustainable is a top priority here at the SLO Food Bank. We want to provide food to those in need while being aware of our impact on the environment. By taking steps to minimize that impact, we can collectively help our planet.
How Does Food Waste Impact The Environment?
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “food waste”? Is it throwing away food that you can’t finish eating? There’s so much more to the environmental effects of food waste than simply what is thrown away.
Resources put into producing, packaging, and transporting food is lost when food is wasted. This includes but is not limited to:
1. Water and land used to produce food
2. Plastic, paper, and other materials used to package food
3. Greenhouse gas emissions from transporting food
4. Labor and energy costs every step of the way
Food that is thrown away also takes up a significant amount of space in our landfills and releases methane and carbon dioxide while decomposing. Methane is significantly more detrimental to our environment than carbon dioxide. According to the EPA, it’s 20 times more destructive. We take steps to minimize the amount of food we send to our landfills.
What Are We Doing To Help The Environment?
Food waste is a significant contributor to environmental damage. We help the environment by reducing food waste in a variety of ways. Our GleanSLO, grocery rescue, and green waste initiatives are three programs that reduce the amount of food that we send to the landfills. We also watch our carbon footprint by limiting waste at distribution sites and using a hybrid truck.
Volunteers help harvest excess produce from local farms and gardens. Farmers don’t prioritize this produce, since it’s what remains after the main harvest. Although the food is perfectly edible, it may have cosmetic imperfections, such as being too small or too large. If volunteers didn’t glean it, the food would go to waste, since labor costs associated with harvesting the remnants aren’t typically worth it for farmers.
We take excess food from grocery stores in the area and redistribute it to those in need. This way, we rescue over 1.85 million pounds per year. Grocery stores give us food that is about to go bad and with the help of our volunteers, we sort through all the items to determine what can be salvaged.
Last Steps and Green Waste
When we get to the end of the food chain, we have a few options for food that is unfit for human consumption. Our preferred route is calling pig farmers that we have relationships with. Depending on the week, these farmers pick up food waste once or twice a week that they then feed to their pigs.
If there are no other options, the warehouse has several green waste bins (pictured above) for food scraps and inedible food. The county picks up our waste and ships it down to Santa Maria where it can be composted. A digester is currently being installed in San Luis Obispo county, so food waste will be converted into different byproducts. Once the digester is up and running, we will become a zero-waste facility.
Limiting Waste At Our Distribution Sites
There are several things that we do to limit our food waste once it leaves the warehouse and arrives at various distribution sites. Extra food is often redistributed by locals to other locals. This way, we aren’t recollecting food that would be put to better use elsewhere. It also cuts out additional greenhouse gas emissions from transporting food back and forth.
At the Senior Farmers Market in Morro Bay, client and recipient Molly* redistributes remaining food to a partner complex a few blocks away. She also gives extra food to Rock Harbor Church, where they can store it themselves and redistribute at their Saturday market. At one of our Children’s Farmers Markets in Paso Robles, extra food is given to nearby migrant workers to take home.
These efforts by our volunteers cut out another trip to the warehouse, where we would potentially have to throw away food because it is left at unsafe temperatures for extended periods of time. When people come together, we can significantly reduce our waste.
Cal recycle is starting to impose mandates on food waste in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We received a grant to purchase a hybrid truck to use for transport to and from community partners, grocery stores and food distributions. In the future, we’ll work toward tracking our hybrid truck’s activity to assess its positive impacts on our operations.
Now that you understand the detrimental effects of food waste and how the we mitigate this waste, why should you take action? By taking steps to minimize your food waste, you can decrease your expenses while decreasing your carbon footprint.
1. Plan ahead and make sure you purchase only what you will use. Avoid making unnecessary purchases because of sales or deals.
2. Purchase produce regardless of superficial blemishes, since they don’t affect the taste of the food. Food is often wasted at grocery stores because produce with imperfections is more difficult to sell.
3. Keep your fridge organized so perishable food isn’t forgotten about. Make sure you’re storing food properly. If you can’t consume it before it goes bad, try to freeze it.
4. Keep foods at food safe temperatures. By doing this, you can minimize the amount of food you have to throw out due to food safety concerns.
5. When going out to eat, take any leftovers home and eat them as soon as possible.
6. Compost unusable food or utilize green waste so you’re not contributing more food to the landfills.
7. Stay aware of your waste and its impact on the environment. Let your friends and family know. Ignorance is not bliss!
Watch Your Waste
Our employees limit their food waste in various ways. We’ll be posting examples of how we watch our waste on our Instagram, so be sure to follow us @slofoodbank. We encourage everyone to join us. How do you limit your food waste?
Luise and Jordan limit their food waste by sharing extra food with coworkers at the Food Bank.