Rescued food feeds the hungry

Posted on June 8, 2015 by

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By Katie Johnston

Every week during the school year, Harvard’s food service workers pack up as much as 2,500 pounds of leftovers from the undergraduate dining halls, freezing chicken and bagging steamed vegetables.

Their destination? The plates of Boston’s needy families.

 Until a year ago, the extra servings would have gone to the university’s compost heap. But now the food is picked up by a Cambridge nonprofit that freezes it and turns it into several thousand meals for those without.

The program was enacted ahead of state regulations adopted last fall that prohibit commercial organizations from disposing of more than a ton of organic waste per week, requiring about 1,700 businesses and institutions, including Harvard, to find alternatives to the dumpster for kitchen scraps and leftover deli platters.

The effort stems from a growing global awareness about donating or otherwise repurposing unused food. In the United States, 40 percent of food goes to waste, nearly all of which goes into landfills, according to the National Resources Defense Council, yet 1 in 6 people struggle to get enough healthy food to eat.

New England is leading the way in reducing food waste, with disposal restrictions also enacted last year in Connecticut and Vermont. Rhode Island’s ban goes into effect next year.

In Massachusetts, where food is the biggest source of garbage, the regulation is the latest in a series of state waste bans. Companies are free to turn leftovers into livestock feed or to convert them into energy, but for the state, feeding the needy is the top priority.

“We always prefer to see food used as food,” said John Fischer, who handles commercial waste reduction for the Department of Environmental Protection.

Many major companies have been giving away food for years, including the grocery chains Stop & Shop and Trader Joe’s, food service providers Sodexo and Aramark, and the Starbucks and Pizza Hut chains. But regulations and growing consumer awareness are prompting more companies to get on board.

Last year, Whole Foods ramped up its donation program in New England, coordinating with local groups to come to each of its 38 New England stores every day to pick up day-old sandwiches or boxes of berries that couldn’t be sold because of one or two moldy pieces of fruit.

It also started freezing leftover macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes from its hot bar to give to Food for Free, a Cambridge nonprofit that last year started collecting unused prepared food to give to charities. The efforts increased Whole Foods’ local food donations by as much as 50 percent, resulting in 3 million pounds of food given away last year.

Cambridge-based Genzyme is looking into contributing some of the edible food from the biotech company’s cafeterias, which last year generated 25 tons of compost.


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Posted in: Family safety