As the UK foodservice and retail sectors get set to join forces to tackle food waste under the Courtauld 2025 commitment, Meghan Stasz and Laura Abshire discuss how similar cross- sector collaboration has worked in the US.
Food waste has steadily climbed over the years to a top concern for both consumers and corporations – and companies are doing something about it. Three trade associations spanning the retail, manufacturing and foodservice sectors of the US food industry got together in 2011 to address this challenge and founded an alliance to better understand and combat food waste.
The Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA) was formed from an understanding of the size of the food waste problem in the country and globally, along with a recognition that no company or sector could solve this problem alone. It’s through collaboration, partnership and best practice sharing that we’ve seen the most progress and innovation.
FWRA was created with three goals: reduce food waste generated; increase food donated to those in need; and recycle unavoidable food waste to uses like anaerobic digestion or compost, keeping it out of landfills. Food waste is a “triple bottom line” issue; by solving it we are able to make a positive impact economically, socially and environmentally.
The group’s work is divided into four subgroups: assessment, best practice, communications and policy. All of the approximately 30 companies in FWRA (about 10 per industry segment) participate in one or more of these subcommittees. In addition, a group of 12 strategic advisers – individuals with specific expertise in one of the three FWRA goals or the subcommittees – provide thought leadership.
FWRA’s research and best practices guides have helped advance food waste data and solutions within and across industries.
The landmark assessments of sources and causes of food waste and food donation in the manufacturing, wholesale, retail and restaurant industries shows how each sector is finding ways to minimise food waste generation, increase food donation and recycle waste.
For instance, we have found that more than 40% of wasted food from grocery stores is donated or recycled and manufacturers donate or recycle nearly 95% of food waste, of which more than 85% is repurposed for animal feed. Our research also shows that 75% of restaurants regularly track their food waste and more than 70% of their food waste is cooking oil recycling.
The second Best Practices Guide, released in November, highlights case studies from a range of companies sharing insight on how to get started on a food waste or donation programme or how to take existing programmes to the next level. The guide is written by and for company experts and provides unique and practical real-world solutions in a range of situations. Sometimes a strong partnership is all it takes to inspire innovation.
Examples featured include Darden Restaurants’ experience setting up a successful food donation programme, even in a busy restaurant environment; the Campbell Soup Company’s partnership with a local food bank to turn excess peaches in the state of New Jersey into peach salsa for those in need; and the supermarket chain Wegmans’ robust in-store composting programme that has benefited from very high employee engagement. Not only do these initiatives raise awareness about the issue, but the solutions drive down waste in the food system.
As we look to the next few years of FWRA and at the food waste issue overall, there is a lot the US and UK can learn from each other. For example, the UK’s WRAP programme is well known to be best-in-class regarding consumer education – a critical piece of any successful food waste reduction effort.
On the other side, FWRA’s cross-industry collaboration, especially best practice, is a real strength to highlight. In addition, unique to the US is the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act, which protects company food donations from lawsuits. Despite protections like this, liability concerns as well as supply chain challenges and barriers to food donation still exist.
All countries should do what they can to strengthen support for food donation to those in need, and increase awareness of the issue of food waste.
Meghan Stasz is senior director (sustainability) at the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
Laura Abshire is director (sustainability policy and government affairs) at the National Restaurant Association.