The Food Waste Reduction Alliance released its Best Practices and Emerging Solutions Toolkit last week, as part of an effort led by the Food Marketing Institute, Grocery Manufacturers Association and National Restaurant Association to help the food industry reduce food waste. The toolkit includes best practices and strategies for measuring and managing food waste by keeping it out of landfills, overcoming donation challenges and reducing the generation of food waste to begin with.
“We realized early on that we needed to communicate beyond this group to the broader membership of our respective trade associations if we were going to be able to get traction on this issue and make meaningful progress,” ConAgra Foods Vice President of Sustainable Development and toolkit co-author Gail Tavill said. “This is only the beginning, but it’s a way to lay the groundwork to enable the entire food industry to address this environmental, social and economic issue.”
The dozens of organizations participating in FWRA realized they were all dealing with challenges related to food waste using different techniques, so the alliance’s Best Practices and Emerging Solutions Committee decided to start collecting those case studies and practices, she said.
“One of the main goals of the Food Waste Reduction Alliance is to share best practices and tips and tools on how to prevent food waste and reduce food waste within our industries,” NRA Director of Sustainability and FWRA Co-Chair Laura Abshire said. “We first began doing that within the FWRA itself and then we really wanted to share those learnings and findings with our broader memberships.”
Beginning with the Best Practices Committee and then extending to other FWRA companies, organizations submitted best practices, videos, stories and other examples from their own companies about how they have worked to reduce or prevent food waste. The FWRA then took that content and based the toolkit around it, focusing on creating a comprehensive guide that represented all three organizations’ industries, Abshire said.
“Everybody brought something to the table,” Darden Restaurants Sustainability Manager and toolkit co-author Brandon Tidwell said. “Each sector has different challenges and opportunities and the FWRA provided a venue for us to collaborate and share our learning.”
For those businesses that do not yet have a plan for food waste reduction in place, the toolkit includes a section on getting started that covers conducting waste characterizations assessments and waste audits, and provides additional steps and examples of how to move forward with establishing a food waste reduction plan, according to Abshire.
“The toolkit is a call to action for those who aren’t already working in this space to get started,” Tavill said. “This group and this industry challenge provides a unique opportunity for cross-sector industry players to work collaboratively on a pre-competitive basis.”
The alliance felt that it was important to start the toolkit by laying out the fundamental problem FWRA is trying to solve throughout the industry and making a case for changing food waste practices at the level of individual businesses within each organization’s industry, she added.
“I think the toolkit can be really helpful to restaurants who aren’t as familiar with this topic and can learn a lot about the issue, become more aware of it and figure out what they can start to do to prevent food waste,” Abshire said. “I think it would be great to see operators of restaurants but also the entire industry set goals around the reduction of food waste and become more familiar with the topic and why this is important.”
While many FWRA companies have already established zero-waste-to-landfill goals and continue to make progress toward them, they still face challenges on that road. Tidwell said he hopes that corporate leaders will use the toolkit to help their companies reduce food waste, donate more food and recycle more, ultimately improving their bottom lines.
“The number one goal is to move safe and edible food to feeding the hungry and out of the waste stream. Secondly, we want to redirect all food waste to productive use — food to energy, animal feed, composting — and away from landfill,” FMI Senior Director of Sustainability Jeanne vonZastrow said.
Now that the toolkit has been distributed, NRA, GMA and FMI will conduct webinars within their organizations to help educate their members about how the toolkit can help them within each industry. Abshire said that NRA specifically will cover food waste for restaurants, letting members know what’s going on with the issue in the restaurant world, what regulations exist, how they can use the toolkit and direct them to learn more through the association’s environmental arm with the ultimate goal that member restaurants will become more sustainable.
“The big takeaway for me is that the food industry together has recognized that food waste is a really important and pressing issue and that we’ve all come together as a group to find ways to solve the problem,” she said. “We want to raise awareness of the issue and help businesses learn how manage and measure and reduce their food waste.”
The alliance is also hoping that businesses will use the toolkit for internal education to identify and benchmark food waste goals and eventually reduce their food waste, vonZastrow said.
The FWRA is also looking toward rounding out an assessment effort that began a few years ago that has already conducted research on food waste data that was publicly available and through data collected through surveys of food manufacturers and retailers, Tavill said. The alliance’s Assessment Committee is now working on an additional report that will include the restaurant industry, as well.
“The more we can understand the actual impacts of our industry practices and these reduction efforts, the better positioned we are to set cross-cutting industry reduction goals in the future,” she said.