Finale Friday

“Straws are a gateway plastic... giving up plastic straws makes it easier for people to give up other types of plastic and to ultimately think about the impact plastic has on the environment, especially the oceans.”
— Dune Ives, executive director of Lonely Whale

Well, I have made to the end of my waste-less challenge but in essence, I am only just at the beginning of my less-waste lifestyle. As Claire highlighted in her challenge, the majority of us can’t literally go zero-waste. Waste is created along all aspects of our food production to food consumption. But we can make enormous strides creating a system and living in a way that minimizes our waste footprint.  

How do you celebrate the end of challenge? With a new cocktail length copper straw of course!  

How do you celebrate the end of challenge? With a new cocktail length copper straw of course!  

These past two weeks I have given up food containers and food waste proper.  The food containers were a big commitment and I found out that the root of most of my waste is consumerism. Having to think twice about whether a food purchase would create additional waste made me think about every transaction.  I don’t drink coffee every day but I wanted a cup mid-week and went to get it. I had my coffee collar in my to-go pouch but not a cup. I didn’t have time to pack lunch mid-week and ended up at a hot bar/salad bar and even though the container was made out of a friendlier plastic, I was disappointed I was going to have to use a plastic container.  Lowering your plastic use isn’t convenient at first but it is worth the effort.  I need to leave the house with my lunch  if I do not want to create plastic waste during my work day. I need to create a go-to list of places that have better carry out containers or the option to eat off washable plates if I eat at the location. Nourishing my body doesn’t have to be at the cost of harming the planet.  I frankly didn’t make the connection between my everyday “living” choices and my plastic consumption as clearly before.  

This challenge has made me mindful of my daily decisions and the importance of setting an intention when it comes to how I want to interact with the food system and the literal earth around me. So in essence, straws were a gateway plastic. Giving up a plastic straw became a gateway to becoming a more mindful global citizen. Sounds a bit woo-woo doesn’t it?  But  it DID. I want to encourage you to choose one type of plastic to give up and do it for 30 days. You will see how one small but consistent act can shift your perspective.  Imagine if we all just gave up straws? What momentum could that build for other changes to care for ourselves, communities, and planet?  

Change starts with me. I hope to see many more non-plastic straws when I go out.  And  I promise if I see you trying to eat spaghetti with a spork, I will lend you my trusty fork. We have to stick together!  I will be updating my waste-less journey so continue to follow Food Recovery Network and help our organization fight food waste and end local hunger. Thank you for being alongside me for this adventure!

Keeping Food Out of Landfills: Policy Solutions for State & Local Governments



This June, four members of FRN National’s staff attended a dynamic workshop that focused on policy areas for food recovery. The day-long event was hosted by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CFN) and the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic. and was packed full of valuable information and discussions with individuals and organizations approaching food recovery from all angles. Speakers included Mark Winne (CFN), Ona Balkus (Councilwoman Mary M. Cheh, Council of the District of Columbia), David Manthos (West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition), Brenda Platt (Institute for Local Self-Reliance), Cheryl Kollin (Community Food Rescue), and Sameer Siddiqi (CFL). Research, law, and policy professionals answered questions about regulations and protections for food donation, and listened to stakeholder feedback in order to inform new recommendations and proposals. We left with reinvigorated ideas and community connections. Read on for an overview of the key policy areas for food recovery!

The following list briefly details the primary policy areas and recommended strategies discussed by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic for keeping food out of the landfill:

  1. Date Labeling

    With the exception of infant formula, there are no federal laws that regulate “Best By” or “Use By” dates on food sold in the US. Therefore, standards are currently at the discretion of states and manufacturers and vary widely. Lack of standardization leads to confusion amongst consumers, who can’t discern if a date label determines a food’s threshold for safety or quality, and throw it out prematurely. Policies at the state and local level that could help ameliorate this issue are: clarifying that “Best if used by” dates indicate a food’s quality, requiring “Use by” dates for foods that pose safety risks if consumed past date, allowing for the sale and donation of food past the quality date, and increasing consumer education about label standardization.
  2. Liability Protections

    Although the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act protects food donors and nonprofits from liability when donating food without gross negligence, these protections do not currently extend to food businesses that donate food directly to final recipients (bypassing a nonprofit meal service). To incentivize new and creative donation models, state and local governments should also extend these protections to organizations that sell donated food, and to businesses that donate directly to recipients rather than to a nonprofit middleman. States and local governments should also publish guidance to clarify these standards.  
  3. Tax Incentives

    Many businesses and farms that could potentially donate food do not because of the associated high costs. The Enhanced Federal Tax Incentive for Food Donation is an economical and cost-effective way to encourage these parties to donate unsold food by allowing them to recoup some of the cost of their donations; eleven states have passed additional incentives beyond the Federal Tax Incentive. Furthermore, states and local governments should structure the incentive as a tax credit, not a deduction, and extend the incentive to nonprofits that sell donated foods.
  4. School Food Waste

    Primary and secondary schools produce over 360,000 tons of food waste a year, yet few schools employ waste reduction or recovery strategies on their campuses. This is a missed opportunity for youth to learn about food waste issues and engage directly with solutions. School districts can use food waste as a learning opportunity by including students in food waste audits and creating post-consumer composting programs. Research suggests that school districts can also reduce food waste on their campuses by encourages practices such as: trayless dining, extended lunch and breakfast periods, scheduling lunch after recess, and more. The School Lunch Act explicitly allows school districts to donate leftover food, however most do not. Local governments and school districts should establish share tables, pop-up pantries, and donation programs, as well as provide funding for such programs and guidance for implementation.   
  5. Food Safety

    Food safety can act as a barrier to donation due to its sensitive nature and confusion over regulatory requirements on the part of nonprofits and business. Some of this confusion is due to the fact that the safety of food products is regulated at the state level, not the federal. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established a Food Code that all states have adopted that details guidance and recommendations to prevent foodborne illness, but this code is not legally binding and does not provide guidance on safety concerns food donation. States can encourage donations while maintaining high standards for safety by incorporating specific rules for food donation into state regulations, educating health inspectors about food donation, and developing more resources to educate food donors.  
  6. Organic Waste Bans

    Almost all food waste ends up in landfills, consequently filling up a large percentage of the landfills themselves. This is problematic because landfills are very expensive, many are reaching capacity, and they produce the potent greenhouse gas methane as they decompose organic material. Five states have enacted organic waste bans or recycling programs to prevent food from reaching landfills. Local and state governments enacting these policies should provide funding for alternative processing programs, such as organics curbside collection, composting, anaerobic digestion, donation, and livestock feed, as well guidance for compliance.  
  7. Livestock

    Within the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, feeding food scraps to livestock  falls between recovery and composting. There are multiple federal laws that regulate the types of food that can be fed to animals; most prohibitions involve meat and animals by-products that have not been heat-treated in licensed facilities. State-specific regulations vary greatly in their restrictions. State and local governments should encourage livestock-feeding programs through public education and funding.

Want to learn more? Check out the Facebook Live screenings of the workshop here.

FRN Takes On the Summer Fancy Food Show

Imagine the largest grocery store you’ve ever been in. Now multiply that by five. I feel confident saying the Summer Fancy Food Show (FFS) is bigger than whatever you’re imagining. The FFS is the “largest specialty food industry trade event in North America,” according to Specialty Food Association’s website. Thousands of vendors put their foods on display, hoping to connect with the next home for their products, while thousands of industry folk walk the aisles of the expo, sampling foods, contemplating what to bring into their kitchens or stores. I’d say it was like a kid in a candy store, but that’s pretty much where I was - except exchange lollipops for olives and chocolate bars, for, well, fancier chocolate bars.

FRN's Executive Director, Regina Northouse, left, and Program Manager, Hannah Cather, right

FRN's Executive Director, Regina Northouse, left, and Program Manager, Hannah Cather, right

Thanks to our partners at the Specialty Food Foundation, Regina Northouse (FRN’s Executive Director) and I were able to experience a foodie’s dream come true. Want to sample some smoked cheddar or smooth brie? Sure, you can find it behind the giant wall of (plastic) cheese wheels. Feeling sluggish after hours of processing all the stimuli? No problem, there are at least fifteen coffee companies throughout the expo. Everywhere you looked, there was food and beverage for the tasting.

Though the expo is an international affair, Regina and I spent most of our time exploring the national brands. We met Andrew Cates, Co-founder of RayZyn, a snack company from Napa Valley. He asked if we liked wine - we do. If asked if we like raisins - we do. Then he handed us each a raisin that tasted like Cabernet. It was delicious, not alcoholic and apparently full of antioxidants, like 90 mg more than pomegranates. Who knew.

As we passed Mike’s Hot Honey stand, an enthusiastic man started raving about the honey. He asked for samples like it was all he needed in the world to be happy. Regina and I laughed, before deciding we too wanted a sample. Turns out, Enthusiastic Man was a friend of the company’s, but he wasn’t wrong about how delicious the chili pepper-infused honey was.

Those were just two of the highlights of the many, many people we got to meet together. Regina saw the FFS all the way through to the end, where she witnessed hundreds of City Harvest volunteers go through the expo and collect perishable and nonperishable food from the vendors. Because of this massive recovery, the FFS was Food Recovery Verified. “It was so inspiring to see all of these small and medium sized companies from literally all over the world who wanted to ensure their amazing products weren’t tossed out at the end of the event--but given to those in need. The recovery process was something to behold!”

We’re looking forward to the Winter Fancy Food Show, discussing food recovery with vendors and seeing the tasty things we tried in our local stores.


City of College Park, MD Declares Official Food Recovery Day

Due to all of the hard work and advocacy of our network, the city of College Park, Maryland - the location of our flagship chapter -  has officially declared June 13, 2017 Food Recovery Network Day, on behalf of College Park, MD mayor, Patrick L. Wojahn. This first-ever proclamation for FRN encourages, “... all of our residents to recognize Food Recovery Network for the significant impact they have made, and continue to make, as a critical factor in the fight against food waste and hunger.”

Our Executive Director, Regina Northouse notes, “This recognition from the City of College Park is special because it gives credit to the tireless efforts of our student-led movement across the country to prevent food waste and ensure food gets to those who need it most. Our students are amazing and it means a lot to be honored in this way.”

In addition to our network’s current summer accomplishments, we have reason to celebrate the accomplishments of last spring: FRN recovered exactly 338,111.34 pounds of food, or 280,822.70 meals. This is, by far, the most food recovered by our network in a single semester. We’re thrilled at how far we’ve come in the food waste fight, and we’re excited about the future of the organization as we continue to advocate, inform, and act on behalf of food justice.

Read the full proclamation below. We would also love to hear from you if you have questions or FRN stories to share!

Waste-Less Wednesday-- Recap of Napkins and Utensils

Week 3 and I am hitting my stride. I hope that you are considering what types of disposable items you could attempt to give up/minimize for your own challenge.  Lessons learned are:

Be prepared at all times. This became critical to my success as I added more items to the challenge.  And you know what?  It isn’t easy.  I have to say, I struggled a bit once I added the utensils. All of a sudden I felt like I was carrying a lot of stuff , that I had to remember lots of bits and pieces, and I had to attempt to plan my day to see if I needed additional items. I think this is where most of us struggle.  We use disposables because they are convenient!  I had to remind myself that small, consistent actions have transformative effects. Each time I succeeded mattered because it kept the momentum going and kept me from sending a piece trash to the landfill.

My solution was to create my own “preparedness pouch.” Using the pouch made it much easier to throw the needed items into my bag and go. I selected a plastic one because it made it easier to deal with the dirty/wet utensils. You could use a cloth one and throw it in the wash for double points. I do laundry about once a week so having a pouch I could clean quickly each day was a priority. I chose a bright color so that it would jump out at me if it was sitting on my counter.

My "preparedness pouch" makes it easy to keep all my zero-waste necessities with me at all times and helps me stay ready for any impromptu waste-generating activities. 

My "preparedness pouch" makes it easy to keep all my zero-waste necessities with me at all times and helps me stay ready for any impromptu waste-generating activities. 

Finding the right napkin can be tricky. In my effort to not bulk up my already heavy bags, I didn’t want to carry around a full sized linen napkin. So I improvised and used a handkerchief that was part of the packaging for a bottle of perfume. The handkerchief was thin and I could slip it into my pocket (this is before I got the pouch) and it didn’t make the pouch bulky once I added it.  

There are lots of utensil options.  You can see in my pouch I carry a separate fork, spoon, and knife. I did find a metal spork in my silverware drawer and used it for a few days. But I found that I often needed a specific type of utensil or I needed to plan my meals accordingly.  Eating angel-hair pasta with only a spork tends to be messy. The version with the knife on one end was also tricky because I needed to cut the piece of food and hold it still. My fingers came in handy for that situation but I ended up needing to use my cloth napkin more. Try different utensils until you find the one that suits your carrying threshold and your typical food selection.

Please note: There will be a day that you forget your utensils. And so you think that you will be crafty and buy a sandwich = no utensils.  Until you realize that the sandwich was super messy and your handkerchief isn’t all that absorbent for the squishy goodness and you end up using paper napkins to make up the difference.  It happens to best food waste warrior.  

Becoming a waste warrior means spreading the good word of zero waste to others too! My office is now one step closer to being zero waste after we swapped this plastic cutlery for reusable silverware.

Becoming a waste warrior means spreading the good word of zero waste to others too! My office is now one step closer to being zero waste after we swapped this plastic cutlery for reusable silverware.

You can encourage others.  The first day after I began the plastic utensils challenge, I walked into work and for the first time noted the availability of plasticware. I have my own set of silverware and plates at the office, so I didn’t take much notice before. I shared with my co-workers that I was doing this challenge and I put the disposables in a cabinet instead.  Now 11 people were less likely to use a plastic fork than before. One of my co-workers replenished the office silverware drawer to help support the effort and we are back to using silverware as a team.  Think of easy ways you can help you own office or school go waste- less.

This week’s new challenge items are disposable containers.  This is a broad category so I am starting with  food containers such as take away containers, plastic food packaging, and disposable cups.