Combating organic waste a goal for Maine Food Production Leadership Council

Helping Maine businesses find food waste solutions is the focus of the Maine Food Production Leadership Council, developed as part of a collaborative project led by a team of University of Maine students and faculty in connection with the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions.

Susanne Lee, executive-in-residence at the Maine Business School and Mitchell Center faculty fellow, worked with a team of students as well as food manufacturers, retailers, distributors, the hospitality industry, farmers, schools, hospitals, hunger relief organizations, solid waste management professionals, and public policy makers to establish the 30-member council. 

The group has identified the reduction of food waste and the diversion of organic waste from landfills as the highest priorities. Also noted: links between food waste and food insecurity. 

Nationwide, up to 40% of food produced for human consumption is wasted, according to the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic. Yet Maine also has the highest rate of food insecurity in New England, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. 

Food insecurity is defined as “being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.” 

“Maine is an exciting place to find solutions for global food system challenges like food waste,” Lee says. “We have a nationally recognized food scene and yet our relatively small size and resourceful Maine culture means that our food system leaders are more able and willing to work together to find and implement best practice solutions to increase profits, strengthen communities and sustain our natural resources. We truly believe that Maine can be the ‘lab’ to successfully develop these winning triple-bottom-line solutions and then share with others.”

After learning from Maine Food Production Leadership Council members about the challenges they face, students Stephanie Ayotte of Saco, Maine, a senior majoring in civil and environmental engineering; Katie Tims of Cornish, Maine, a third-year biology major; and Peter O’Brien of Eliot, Maine, a third-year economics major, researched potential solutions for reducing food waste in Maine, keeping organics out of landfills and addressing food insecurity.

“The Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association is proud to collaborate with the University of Maine and the Mitchell Center to find practical solutions to combat food waste,” says Christine Cummings, association executive director. “With strengthened connections and communication, their sustainability strategies will ideally result in cost-saving initiatives that help businesses meet the goals of Maine’s food recovery hierarchy.” 

The work is part of a Mitchell Center initiative launched in 2015 with a materials management team focused on a sustainable approach to food waste management. 

Last November, the Maine Food Production Leadership Council held its first work session, led by faculty and students involved in the project to “empower Maine businesses toward sustainability.”

Contact: Elizabeth Solet,