Food waste

Practical tips for making less food waste and feeding hungry people

From purchasing imperfect produce to using every scrap, Practice Greenhealth provides eight tips to help cut the trash in hospital foodservice programs.

As much as 40 percent of all food grown in the United States is wasted. That translates into more than $218 billion spent growing, processing, transporting and disposing of food that is never eaten, according to ReFed’s 2016 Report. And it’s not just the waste that’s an issue: Food left to rot in landfills produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Food waste is a big issue for the healthcare sector. Currently, up to 15 percent of a hospital’s total waste comes from food. The healthcare sector makes up nearly 20 percent of the market, which means it’s well positioned to make a difference in addressing both hunger and waste reduction in the United States. Practice Greenhealth, a nonprofit focused on healthcare, is working with hospitals across the country to cut food waste. 

Food waste reduction offers the greatest opportunity for combined cost and environmental impact. Those hospitals that have taken on food waste reduction have realized a 2-to 6-percent annual budget savings.

Below are practical tips to help your organization tackle food waste.

Janet Howard, director of member engagement and Healthier Hospitals for Practice Greenhealth

Integrate food waste reduction into existing initiatives: Connect the activity with broader environmental activity, community benefit and climate goals for maximum leverage. In healthcare, hospitals seeing the biggest return have successfully embedded food waste reduction into other Initiatives. Food waste reduction goals easily plug into the Joint Commission’s Environment of Care Committee, where a hazardous material and waste management plan is required. 

Buy what you need and no more: Concern over running out of food can lead to over purchasing, over preparation and over generation of food and, subsequently, of waste. By closely focusing on the daily leftovers and expired foods, purchasing managers can modify purchasing practices.  

Avoid trays in retail and opt for small plates: By eliminating trays, the consumer takes away less and as a result, wastes less. Smaller plates help with portion size, and all-you-can-eat buffets can be eliminated, both for health and for waste.

Purchase “imperfect” fruits and vegetables: Spur the market for less-than-perfect-looking products so that farms increase the selling of imperfect fruit and vegetables.

Use as much as possible: Product trim can be used for a variety of uses, like vegetable trimmings for soups or for salads and salsas. Staff habits may vary, so incorporate this into staff onboarding and ongoing training to put a sharp focus on these practices.

Donation: One in seven people are hungry or at risk of being hungry. Partnering with organizations like Feeding America increases the recovery of food for area food banks. Feeding America conducts site visits, staff education and integrates a quality protocol, ensuring safe and effective food donation. 

Landfill avoidance: Check with state and municipality for landfill bans and regional alternatives to landfill, including digestion, composting and animal feeding. Get involved with regional food waste initiatives and demonstrate leadership as one of the largest employers, community builders and food waste generators in a community.  

Room service dining: Many hospitals and health systems have incorporated room service dining with the goal of improved patient experience. Another positive outcome is food waste reduction—patients order what they want and are more likely to eat what they select from the menu. Consider this a win-win opportunity for positive patient experience and reduced waste generation.

For more strategies on cutting food waste, contact Practice Greenhealth.

Janet Howard is the director of member engagement and Healthier Hospitals for Practice Greenhealth. The team provides fresh content, educational support and technical assistance to Practice Greenhealth facility members and Healthier Hospitals enrollees. Recent projects include the Employee Engagement Toolkit and fresh content on Materials/Wastes and Engaged Leadership. Janet is currently developing content on food waste prevention and management for roll out in 2016, as well as working with the team on continuous content development and furthering the reach within the healthcare environment, helping organizations recognize the link between sustainability programming and quality, patient experience and performance excellence. Janet's angle is around empowerment and the belief that every person deserves a safe, healthy and respectful environment.

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