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Reducing food waste in Ohio

By Mary Wicks

Remember “waste not, want not” and “clean your plate’” from childhood dinner time? Feel guilty throwing away moldy leftovers? Food waste is a much larger problem than not eating your peas. The USDA estimated that in 2010, 130 billion tons of the food produced for human consumption in the U.S. was wasted at the retail or consumer level. That’s 31% of the total food supply and valued at $161 billion, plus additional costs for the water, fertilizer and other inputs needed to grow, process and transport food. Plus, a lot of wasted food ends up in landfills, where it accounts for about 21% of all solid waste.


What’s the solution?

The U.S. has set a goal of reducing food scraps going to landfills by 50% by 2030. Doing that will take many approaches. The USDA and EPA have created the food recovery hierarchy that illustrates the effectiveness of these approaches. Source reduction focuses on changing the habits of processors, retailers, and consumers, while providing nutrition for people and animals requires improving delivery strategies. Industrial uses, such as anaerobic digestion that generates renewable energy and composting that recycles nutrients and organic matter to the land, are good uses for non-edible foods. From farmers to solid waste districts, Ohioans are teaming up to meet the 2030 goal.

Starting at the top of the pyramid, the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) Food Waste Initiative provides information for consumers, the food service industry, businesses, and schools on how to prevent food waste. SWACO also provides links to food donation programs that feed the hungry and to collection and composting services. The Ohio EPA Food Scrap Initiative gives tips and links to foodbanks throughout the state. They also work to increase the number and capacity of Class II composting facilities, which can accept food waste.

Campbell’s, whose largest soup and beverage plant is located in Napoleon, has implemented numerous practices to reduce its food waste by 50% by 2030. At the farm level, materials such as carrot tops and tomato stems are incorporated into the soil, recycling nutrients and increasing soil organic matter. In the processing plant, reconfiguring equipment has reduced waste. Damaged or unusable portions of vegetables and fruits are diverted to animal feed, and food processing wastes are piped to the Napoleon anaerobic digester across the street. Microbes in the digester convert the food waste to methane, which is burned to produce about 24% of the electricity the processing plant needs.

Innovative approaches are also being implemented at a smaller scale. Great Lakes Brewing in Cleveland focuses on recycling its food “byproducts.” Spent brewer’s grains are used as a livestock feed and soil amendment at local farms that supply the brewery’s restaurant. Andre Farms, a Class II composting facility near Wauseon, has installed a de-packaging system so it can compost outdated foods from grocers and processors. Barnes Composting has partnered with the Ohio Department of Corrections to operate a Class II composting facility at Lima, increasing the area’s capacity to divert food wastes and providing training for offenders.

At an even smaller scale, companies are filling niches that provide opportunities for small businesses and consumers to divert food wastes. Rust Belt Riders in Cleveland started with the motto “Feed people, not landfills” and used a bicycle trailer and buckets to collect food wastes from restaurants and consumers, delivering it to community gardens for composting. They have continued to grow their services and were awarded the 2020 Small Scale Composter of the Year by the U.S. Composting Council. GoZERO is meeting the need for transportation of food waste, by offering services for businesses, events, and consumers via on-site collection and drop-off stations.

With these and other efforts, Ohio is reducing food waste at its source and increasing diversion of food scraps to feed people and animals, generate energy, and return nutrients to soil.


Mary H. Wicks, Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering. Phone: 330.202.3533. E-mail: wicks.14@osu.edu. This column is provided by the OSU Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, OSU Extension, Ohio Agricultural Research & Development Center, and the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

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