Six Solutions to End food Waste

In 2015, a Mitchell Center multidisciplinary team identified eliminating food waste as the single most important issue to ensure a more sustainable waste system in Maine. In 2019, a new interdisciplinary team was funded to help identify triple-bottom-line solutions to end wasted food in Maine.

Following the Mitchell Center research approach, our team worked with Maine’s major food businesses and organizations including retailers, distributors, farmers, manufacturers, hospitality, hospitals, schools, Congresswoman Pingree’s office, and others to identify stakeholder-driven food waste solutions that would deliver major economic, social and environmental benefits for Maine. We combined this with best-practice research looking for successful global, national, and regional solutions to end food waste.  Finally, we utilized the Maine DEP Food Recovery Hierarchy to ensure that our solutions followed the reduction/recovery/recycling hierarchy.

At this point, six (6) food waste solutions have been identified and the team is working with key stakeholders to develop and launch specific pilots related to each of the six solution areas.  In total, the solutions propose a circular food system where the inherent value of food – the nutrients and energy – are never lost but rather is used to “feed” the next step in the circular food system:  food is grown, food feeds people, food feeds livestock, food is recycled into compost which feeds the soil,  which grows the food (see the graphic on the food recycling sign). The Solution pilots will ensure that food waste is reduced, triple bottom line goals are met or exceeded, and that the Solutions can successfully be expanded statewide. 

Examples of the Mitchell Center Sustainability Solutions pilot projects and programs

Maine Food Waste and System Solutions

Solution 1: Enable all Maine producers to simply measure and track food usage 

Solution 2: Create a centralized “Maine food rescue” system 

Solution 3: Work with producers to build Maine consumer education and behavior around food waste

Solution 4: Build Maine’s food handling and processing infrastructure

Solution 5: Assist producers with donation education and incentives

Solution 6: Remove food waste from landfills, support producer waste diversion

Solution 1: Measure, Track, and Save

The objective of solution one is to build a simple yet effective, universal Maine business food waste reporting system to track, measure and report lbs. food waste over a time period, to identify and report the primary types of food waste, to identify and report the primary causes of food waste, and to develop specific sustainability solutions to reduce, recover, and recycle food waste. 

If you’re looking for ways for your business to cut down on waste, contact the Mitchell Center team for more information.

Solution 2: Food Rescue Software System

The objective of Solution 2 is to reduce wasted food with “a food rescue software system that uses zip codes to identify Maine food available, Maine food needed, and local volunteers to transport.”  This solution reduces food waste using a Maine Food Recovery Hierarchy recovery strategy that prioritizes feeding people.  The triple bottom line benefits include saving money spent to address food insecurity, feeding hunger Maine people, and providing environmental protections.
After reviewing the most successful food rescue software systems used nationally, the Mitchell Center selected the Food Rescue US system
The basis for selection was 1) successful partner references, 2) ReFED recommendation, 3) simple and easy-to-use system, 4) flexible to accommodate a wide range of “food rescue” opportunities, and 5) economic cost.  We are currently working to implement two pilot programs in the Waterville area and the Bangor area. Even in this early phase, we were recently able to rescue 500K lbs of Maine purple potatoes which became available due to a cancelled potato chip order! (see photos).
If you interested in increasing your food rescue totals or better organizing and tracking your existing food rescue activity, please contact the Mitchell Center for the opportunity to become a Food Rescue MAINE pilot community.

Solution 3: Educaton

The goal of the solution three pilot is to educate the public on food waste. We are creating education plans for public schools to get involved with ending food waste. We have created a K-5 consumer food waste education and awareness campaign for Winslow Elementary School and Portland Public Elementary Schools (Talbot and Rowe) to inform Maine students and families about food waste and how to mitigate or avoid its production. We are also creating a high school consumer food waste education and awareness campaign to inform Maine students about food waste and the benefits of composting/food recycling at their school.

To get your school involved with ending food waste in Maine, contact the Mitchell Center. 

Meal card template for food recycling education

Solution Three School Education Campaign Info Cards

25% of all household trash is food

Save money and keep food out of the trash by composting or donating unwanted food. 

Table Talk: 

What is your favorite meal to eat for lunch at your school? Write about why you enjoy it or draw a picture to the left!

Solution 4: Saving Farm Surplus

Solution Four works with farmers and food processors to find a way to make farm surplus into edible foods. The objective is to look specifically at farm surplus because 30%-40% of food grown never leaves the farm. This could be either because farm machinery isn’t able to harvest everything, the food is not up to “beauty specs”, or it is just not able to be stored for long periods of time.

A survey has been submitted to local Maine farmers to gauge what they have for surplus and why that is. The results so far show that all farmers are experiencing a surplus, and this could be for multiple different reasons; Costs, labor, and storage seem to be the most present reasons for surplus.

What we have learned from them is that oftentimes farmers have a tight schedule of when to deal with surplus and that doesn’t always line up with the people collecting the surplus. Farmers need to deal with surplus quickly and often times volunteer gleaners can’t fit into the same schedule the farmer has.

Farmers are now looking for a way to deal with surplus other than plowing under the fields or feeding it to farm animals. Processors would also like access to this surplus because that is food going to waste, and food security agencies need this extra food to feed the hungry and they see farm surplus as a valuable asset going to waste. 

If you have a farm surplus and need help finding ways to use your food, contact the Mitchell Center for more assistance

Solution 5: Increase Donations

The goal for Solution 5 is to reduce wasted food by generating increased food donations. This solution follows the Maine Food Recovery Hierarchy strategy to recover food to prioritize feeding people.  Our specific recommended solution tool is a Mitchell Center Maine Food Donation Toolkit which reduces wasted food while providing donors with greater profits, addressing local food insecurity, and protecting natural resources. 
Both ReFED and Harvard Food Law & Policy food waste experts identified that increasing food donations is an important solution to end wasted food.  But Maine stakeholders were reluctant to donate food based on liability and cost concerns.  The Mitchell Center team has created a Maine Food Donation Toolkit to provide a business or organization interested in beginning food donation with all the answers and tools needed to get started (see Food Donation Toolkit presentation).
Based on that additional 2017 NRDC and Rockefeller study modeling the “untapped food donation potential” to close the meal gap by 50% (attached), we are looking to present our Food Donation Toolkit to high potential targets like small grocery stores and bakeries. 
If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of donating your excess food, please contact the Mitchell Center team.

Solution 6: Divert Food Out of Landfills

The goal of Solution 6 is to reduce wasted food by diverting food from Maine’s landfills.  Landfilling food or “trashing” food is costly and wastes the value of food – the nutrients and energy – that could be used to produce compost or biogas/anaerobic digestion.  As a result, the Mitchell Center Solution 6 focuses on food recycling programs statewide. These programs can use private or municipal curbside collection or community collection sites or even home composting – anything that diverts food from ending up in the landfill.
For our pilots, we are developing community collection sites as the single most accessible solution for all Maine people.  The benefits are significant as food is the single largest component of Maine’s waste stream – about 30% –  so the potential to reduce waste is substantial.  For the triple bottom line, towns can reduce their MSW costs substantially based on the lower cost per ton (at scale) for food recycling since the process yields compost and biogas – two by-products that have a market value (see Food Recycling sample presentation).
The Mitchell Center is developing food recycling pilots with interested Maine communities by providing community-specific cost/benefit analyses based on towns completing a MSW profile. With this personalized analysis, towns can clearly see the potential pilot benefits including financial, social, and environmental.  The Mitchell Center provides educational support in the form of food recycling signage artwork (attached) as well as communication materials (see postcard) and events. 
For more information and a personalized Food Recycling cost/benefit analysis for your community or organization, please contact the Mitchell Center team.
Maine Food Too Good To Waste