Austin Sustainable Food System Series Part V: Recovering Food

Our journey through the Sustainable Food System now brings us to an often-overlooked topic; Recovering Food. In a nation with such an abundance of food, the act of tossing food in the trash is one that occurs without second thought. This is true across the whole socioeconomic spectrum. While the practice of cleaning one’s dinner plate may be occurring in particular households, there is no cultural basis for the principle of food recovery. This is because food recovery does not simply involve finishing every bite of food.

The Food Waste Hierarchy describes the process of Sustainable Management of Food on a scale of most preferred actions to least preferred actions. This hierarchy begins with food for hungry people, then animals, composting, and finally the landfill as a last resort.

Following this hierarchy, the first step is Source Reduction. Food that will not be eaten should not be purchased. This is not as easy as it sounds, especially when you are unsure how much food will be eaten. This occurs in both households and businesses. How much food is leftover after Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner? Even if you eat the leftovers for a few days, it is inevitable that some will go into the garbage. Purchasing the exact amount needed is quite difficult to accomplish.

That is why Feeding Hungry People comes next. Take that extra food to those who need it. It is simpler to accomplish this with unprepared food than it is with prepared foods. So a bit of foresight is needed here. However, if you are able to understand what you will not need for yourself, there are multiple organizations like Keep Austin Fed and the Central Texas Food Bank that are willing to take that food off your hands and bring it to hungry stomachs.

The next two actions in the hierarchy, Feeding Animals and Industrial Uses take a level of connection or know-how that is beyond your average household. So for the sake of this article, we’ll move on to the final step before the landfill; Composting. Composting is a human act as old as civilization itself. Ingenuity and diligence have proven there are no limitations to composting. It is a natural process that humans have mastered in countless ways. While there is always a “best way,” to compost, there really is no “wrong way.”

In 2011, the City of Austin released the Austin Resource Recovery Master Plan, which outlines the strategies and milestones for reaching the Zero Waste goal by 2040. A large component of this plan is the diversion of organic waste from the landfill. To meet these goals, the City Council adopted an ordinance in April 2013 that requires any business with a food permit to begin organics diversion by 2018.

The Curbside Organics Collection Pilot was launched for residential homes in 2012. Beginning with 14,000 households at the launch of the pilot, the program expanded to 54,000 with the Phase I expansion in 2017. This program collects food scraps, food-soiled paper, and yard trimmings from city residents. In addition, the city has supported at-home composting through rebates and training.

Reducing waste is a major component of not only a Sustainable Food System but of a Sustainable Society. Around 200 Million pounds of food is wasted in the city of Austin every year. Wasted food means that it ends up in the landfill where it does not decompose properly, contributes to greenhouse gas emission and creates economic waste near to the value of $200 Million. This issue is substantial. Which is why waste reduction is at the forefront of our mission at Lettuce. We believe that waste is not the responsibility of just the consumer. As producers we share the burden of waste production. Therefore, we approach this every step of the way. Beginning with source reduction, by giving only the exact portions needed, the food wasted is limited to only inedible or undesirable parts of fruits and vegetables. Our reusable packaging eliminates non-biodegradable waste. And finally, we offer compost recovery service through that packaging. We take back what you don’t use and turn it into nutrient-dense compost for our farms!

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