In central Ohio, food waste is a complex issue that’s impacting the health of our community, economy, and environment in ways many people don’t realize. That’s why SWACO and more than 150 partners in the Central Ohio Food Waste Initiative (COFWI) have teamed up to create and launch “Save More Than Food, Make a Difference,” a consumer education campaign aimed at cutting food waste – in homes, schools, restaurants and businesses – in half by 2030.
Every day, central Ohio residents and businesses throw out a million pounds of food. Food waste is the largest portion of the waste stream and accounts for 15% of all material in the Franklin County Sanitary Landfill. That’s a lot of food that’s going to waste – food that could be feeding hungry people or, at minimum, returned to the earth in the form of a nutrient-rich soil enhancement.
In addition to being the top material thrown out each day, food waste also presents one of the best opportunities to increase Franklin County’s diversion rate and reach 75% by 2032, a goal set by SWACO in 2017. “Franklin County’s diversion rate already exceeds the national average,” said Ty Marsh, SWACO’s Executive Director. Diversion includes activities such as reducing waste, recycling and composting. “These activities strengthen our local economy as well as protect the health of our environment today and for future generations. Central Ohio is already a leader among our peers when it comes to these efforts; however, if we want to continue to pave the way and reach greater diversion from the landfill, food waste prevention, rescue, and composting must be included as part of our collective solution.”
To that end, in 2018, SWACO convened nonprofit, education, government and business entities to work together to reduce food waste in central Ohio. Calling itself the Central Ohio Food Waste Initiative (COFWI), the group published the Central Ohio Food Waste Action Plan in May 2019 with the ultimate goal to cut food waste in half by 2030. The plan laid out 20 specific initiatives for preventing food waste, rescuing and redistributing edible food, and recycling food through composting and other technologies. Creating a consumer education campaign was one of the priority initiatives identified in order to lay a foundation for future diversion work.
“Save More Than Food” is designed to communicate an important message – that when food goes to waste, so does all of the time, money and resources that went into producing it. The numbers are startling. Wasted food accounts for an estimated $106 million in economic loss in central Ohio. In addition, 22 million gallons of gas and 41 billion gallons of water are used every year to grow and transport food that never gets eaten.
COVID-19 has had impacts too. According to a survey of 500 households across the U.S. conducted in July by the Ohio State Food Waste Collaborative, 58% of respondents said they are cooking at home more than they were a year ago. Survey participants also reported a high rate of intention to eat the food in their refrigerators rather than let it go to waste, which is good news; however, a similar study from 2018 revealed that people tend to significantly overestimate how much food they hope to eat.
“Since the pandemic began in March, people have been preparing and eating more meals at home,” said Kyle O’Keefe, SWACO’s Director of Innovation and Programs. “Save More Than Food” is designed to connect residents and families, schools, and businesses to resources and information on the simple changes they can make to help reduce food waste and save precious resources.”
As local businesses and schools continue to slowly open back up and serve their customers in new and different ways, “Save More Than Food” can serve as a resource for reducing waste. The campaign’s website provides tips and advice on a variety of things that can be done and which have a lasting impact. Commercial kitchens can participate in donating uneaten meals and training employees on food waste prevention practices. Individuals can reduce waste by shopping smarter, eating leftovers, and participating in local composting programs.
“The Ohio Restaurant Association is proud to partner with SWACO on this exciting and impactful campaign that will reduce food waste in the central Ohio region. Restaurant and foodservice businesses are always on the cutting edge of technology and innovation, as well as making a difference in their communities. By participating in this campaign, our members and restaurant industry leaders can take steps to decrease food waste in their own establishments, as well as inspire their guests to be informed about food waste prevention initiatives like recycling, composting and divergence,” said John Barker, Ohio Restaurant Association President & CEO.
“The food that we choose to eat – and not to eat – has a bigger impact on our environment and community than many people realize. Thankfully reducing food waste is a fun, easy, and delicious way to make a difference,” added Lucy Schroder, SWACO’s Food Waste Initiative Coordinator.