Whenever I take the kids out to a family restaurant, they never finish their meal. Sure, we can take it home and have it for lunch the next day. But too often, our plates are cleared and taken to the kitchen where the leftovers are thrown in the trash. That’s a waste of food and money.
LeanPath, an organization founded in 2004, has developed special software for big and small operations alike to track how much food is going out the door. For large food operations, there is an automated system with a touch-screen terminal called ValuWaste that tracks food on a 24-hour basis. This is ideal for high-volume foodservice operations. But for smaller restaurants, caterers, and other companies, LeanPath’s PC-based WasteLOGGER tracks the food in the same way as the ValuWaste but on a smaller scale.
According to a company press release dated June 15th, a 577-bed VA Medical Center in Martinsburg, W. Va., was awarded the Sustainability Achievement Award from the Department of Veteran Affairs. They incorporated the new technology after they discovered that 1,500 pounds of food was wasted per week. Once the system was in place, the medical center decreased their food waste by 80%. Now, they only discard 300 pounds of food. Granted, that’s still a lot of food waste. But, something is always better than nothing.
“We started looking at better forecasting,” said Annemarie Price, Operations Manager for the center, as quoted in the press release. “Unfortunately, there is going to be food waste. We have a patient cafeteria and we strive to offer options. We want the very last veteran to get the same selection as everybody else. This program has helped us look at food waste and reduce it.”
Price went on to say that the medical center has taken a step further. They now compost their pre-consumer waste and place it in biodegradable bags. Those bags are then frozen and a local farmer picks them up twice a month. Any leftover food is also donated to a local non-profit organization.
Based on an article in The Guardian dated September 8, 2009, food waste could be handled in a much more environmentally friendly way, much like the way the Martinsburg Medical Center handles theirs. Paul Bettison, chair of the Local Government Association environment board, stated that certain organizations are actually separating their food waste in special bins. “Leftovers are being turned into fertili[z]er, or gas to generate electricity,” he was quoted as saying. “In some areas, in-vessel composting and anaerobic digestion are playing a key role in cutting council spending on landfill tax and reducing methane emissions.”
Now consider your own kitchen. According to LeanPath’s web site, anywhere from four to ten percent of the food we buy gets thrown out. That translates into tens of thousands of dollars every year. The amount of food we pitch in the trashcan without even thinking about it is staggering. Maybe we made too much. Or, we bought it and it spoiled before we could eat it. Either way, food is wasted and money goes down the drain.
But there’s more to the issue than meets the eye. According to a 2008 study conducted by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), food waste and water management go hand in hand from an agricultural standpoint. The farmers water their crops. Their crops are eaten, in some cases over eaten, and then the scraps are discarded. For every plate full of food that’s dumped in the garbage, that’s water wasted to grow it in the first place.
In the study’s opening summary, it states that the distribution of food is at the root of the problem. While some over eat, others go hungry. If the food we wasted went to those who needed it most, we could virtually wipe out world hunger. (Remember when your mom told you to eat your peas because of the starving children in Africa? She wasn’t wrong.) But farmers have to supply the demand, taking care of “both our necessary consumption and our wasteful habits.”
The bottom line: If we stop wasting food, then we stop wasting water. Both are precious. How long will we continue to be a gluttonous society? When, without resources, we become hungry and thirsty?
Image courtesy of The Guardian.