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This charity is feeding the hungry and helping the planet by rescuing millions of pounds of leftover food

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The nonprofit Forgotten Harvest rescues food destined for landfills and delivers it to emergency food providers in and around Detroit, Michigan.

Posted: Sep 25, 2019 1:10 PM
Updated: Sep 25, 2019 1:10 PM

According to FDA estimates, the United States wastes 30 to 40% of its food. That's hard to swallow when you consider that one in 10 US households faced food insecurity in 2018.

That means roughly 14 million families are struggling to put meals on the table while approximately 30 million tons of food are trashed.

Sending food to the dump carries a steep environmental cost as well. Landfills, filled more with discarded food than any other single item, account for one-third of all US methane gas emissions.

So NGOs and nonprofits are tackling the problems of food waste and food insecurity by launching food-rescue programs. And you can help, too.

Rescuing 41 million pounds of food a year

For 29 years Forgotten Harvest, a nonprofit in Detroit, has been rescuing food destined for landfills and redirecting it to the hungry.

Forgotten Harvest CEO Kirk Mayes says it's taken that long to develop the logistics for his program, which now rescues and delivers 130,000 pounds of food a day.

"This operation is set up so that our fleet of about 27 trucks and our drivers can leave our warehouse in the morning and go to about 12 to 14 different stops ... for our donations." Mayes says. Drivers collect food from local bakers and butchers and national chains, he says. "And then these drivers redistribute the food to three to four community partners on a daily basis."

A rotating army of 16,000 volunteers makes this daily event happen.

"At our warehouse, our volunteers are working with commodities that are coming off of our farm and from other commodity partners like the food manufacturers and other farms and donations," Mayes says. "All this (food) is inspected, sorted and set to go out."

The result? Last year Forgotten Harvest redistributed 41 million pounds of food, Mayes says. That's 41 million pounds that filled stomachs instead of landfills.

"We see a lot of work in front of us, with what is one in six people vulnerable for food insecurity in southeast Michigan," he says. "We're all working towards our one mission -- to make sure that we can rescue as much food as possible and get it into the hands of people in need."

How you can help

The federal government has set a goal to cut food waste in half by 2030. To reach that objective, the USDA and the EPA are working with communities and businesses.

They are also providing tips and guides for people to reduce the amount of food they waste:

  • Help organize food-rescue efforts in your community. The Food Donation Connection offers online training and resources to implement programs for communities and businesses. K-12 Food Rescue provides step-by-step instructions to start a food-rescue program at schools.  
  • Donate unused food. This EPA guide provides instructions and resources on how and where to donate unused food, leftovers from events and surplus food inventory. You can also find local food banks with this search tool from Feeding America. 

  • Reduce food waste at home. This EPA guide and toolkit helps reduce food waste in homes. It also provides planning, prep, storage and thriftiness tips to help families and individuals get the most out of the food they buy.
  • Compost in your backyard. Food scraps and yard waste, which make up about 30% of our trash, can be composted instead. The USDA's Backyard Conservation tip sheet explains how to get started with composting. Additional guides, including ways to start a composting program at local schools, can be found here

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