With one in 10 residents in New Jersey facing food insecurity, more than 20 pounds of food per person per month are wasted, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
“If we saved what we threw out, 15% of our food, we could feed 25 more million people a year,” said New Jersey Department of Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher. “Food waste can be sort of labeled by sector. Food loss includes agriculture, production and harvest, so that’s on one side — and processing. But then on the other side it goes to distribution, retail, restaurants, catering and domestic consumption.”
A report last year from the Center for Biological Diversity gave most national supermarket chains a poor grade on their handling of food waste. It found most grocers focus on donating and recycling food, rather than preventing food waste to begin with, and that most supermarket chains don’t report how much of their food ends up in the landfill.
The report also says that businesses that serve or sell food are responsible for 40% of food waste in the United States, with retailers accounting for more waste than restaurants or food-service providers.
“That apple that may have that little bit of blemish on it, or that tomato that has a small bruise, all of those are edible, all of those are edible,” said Assemblyman Daniel Benson.
Noting that almost a million New Jersey residents face hunger each year, Benson sponsored two of the bills that focus specifically on food waste.
“One is a resolution urging food retailers to really do everything in their power to reduce food waste, and the second one is creating a food waste task force inside of Human Services, and the point of the task force is to look at practices, what’s out there now, what’s going on in other states,” he said.
Benson says upgrades to inventory systems at large food retailers could also solve the problem.
“I’m talking about the largest biggest stores. They track everything. We need to start using that to not just maximize inventory and profits, and we need to also to use it to minimize food waste,” he said.
One way supermarkets can curb food waste while also feeding families in need is supermarket gleaning.
Carlos Rodriguez, who heads the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, says the organization has been able to keep millions of pounds of food out of landfills each year through their partnerships with supermarkets.
“Like fruits and vegetables, dairy product that we know are higher in nutrition content but have a limited shelf life. So we work with them to rescue the product, glean the product, if you would, and get it quickly to our neighbors in need,” Rodriguez said.
The New Jersey Food Council, which represents the state’s food retailers and suppliers, says it supports the legislation.
“Our members are committed to waste reduction and diversion practices, which include support of local food banks, charitable food donations, composting, and effective inventory management,” its director said in a statement.
The FoodBank currently partners with nearly 100 food retailers, but Rodriguez says they’re hoping to grow the program. The state has set a goal of cutting its food waste in half by 2030.