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Universities Help Cut Down on Food Waste to Increase Sustainability

By Sharon Chen
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Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania have teamed up with local organizations and grocery stores to gather food waste from a Pennsylvania grocery store chain, repurpose this would-be food waste to feed the hungry, and keep food out of landfills. Food waste is a significant emitter of carbon dioxide, and certain foods (rotten tomatoes, for example, create methane, a climate warming gas that is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide) are especially noxious. Keeping food waste out of landfills and using it to feed the hungry is a winning combination: supermarkets profit from re-selling the would-be food waste, soup kitchens are able to serve their constituents, and carbon emissions are reduced.

In the month of April alone, thirty-five thousand pounds of produce was about to be thrown away by the Pennsylvania grocery chain; 22,000 pounds of this food was good to eat, as most produce on the shelves is discarded because of appearance or to make room for fresher produce. Instead of heading to the landfill, this food was redistributed to homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and food pantries. Food that was rapidly approaching the use-by date was used for food research and development; Drexel University Food Lab students also cooked some this food to serve locally.

Climate change solutions come in different forms. This practical approach to food waste and sustainability solves several problems at once, and shows how higher education can continue to innovate and lead when it comes to climate change action. 

Solutions: Feeding People, Creating Jobs with Would-Be Waste in Philadelphia

Brian Bienkowski | Environmental Health News | August 13, 2015 

Imagine making thousands of dollars a month for something you’re going to throw away. Oh yeah—and you’d be helping feed hungry people.

Sound good? According to a pilot project in West Philadelphia, it’s entirely possible for grocery stores. And the folks involved are hoping that when the pope visits the City of Brotherly Love next month, they can show the world a new way to deal with the global problem of food waste.

Philadelphia researchers, along with federal officials and local organizations, have been gathering food that would otherwise be wasted from a local supermarket chain, Brown’s Super Stores, to put it to good use. And their numbers suggest it’s working.

They tallied up some numbers from April: 35,000 pounds of produce was gathered from 11 area Brown’s Super Stores; 22,000 pounds was good to eat (most produce on grocery shelves is discarded because of the way it looks or to make room for fresher shipments).

Drexel University and University of Pennsylvania researchers estimated one-third of that load could go directly to food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters, where it would feed the hungry. Philadelphia struggles with a 26 percent poverty rate, more than double the rest of the state.

“We wanted to cull food that would be wasted but we had to focus on poverty, on people who were actually hungry,” said Solomon Katz, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Krogman Growth Center, who helped get the project going. “We had to see with poverty where we could make significant differences. Food waste was the lowest hanging fruit on the tree, so to speak.”

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