In October 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) jointly announced our nation’s first food-waste-reduction goal: a 50 percent decrease in food waste sent to
landfills by 2030.
This will be no easy feat. Based on the EPA’s numbers, nearly 18 million tons of food waste will
need to be diverted each year to meet that target.
That’s because America has a serious problem with throwing away our food. Nearly one-third of all the food grown and
raised here is never eaten. All the spoiled milk, wilted lettuce, and uneaten leftovers we toss in the trash adds up
to 133 billion pounds of food dumped in landfills each year. For the average American family, it’s like throwing
away $2,220 annually. So why do we do it?
Some think it’s due to culture. Because we’re a big country, and still a relatively new one America
has always been a land of plenty, at least when it comes to growing food. When
Europeans began settling these virgin soils, all people had to do was put a seed in the ground and wait. Prosperity
was pretty much guaranteed (Dust Bowl days notwithstanding). We’ve never really had to negotiate with our landscapes
over the food they’ll put on our tables. And so we never developed a cuisine that inculcated itself in the idea of
using up so-called “waste.” Think of the French. Some of their most iconic dishes are made from damaged, bruised, or
otherwise undesirable vegetables and meats. What becomes coq au vin over there, gets ground up into dog food or
fishmeal over here. Historical abundances have skewed our tastes and allowed any instinctive leanings toward
frugality to atrophy. As any evening spent watching network television and the accompanying commercials for
“Endless Shrimp” and “All-You-Can-Eat Ribs” will tell you. Deprogramming a national culture is an uphill battle.
But the Wedge is tackling these problems and generating movement toward a more sustainable mindset in a lot of really
For one thing, we don’t stock like a normal grocery store. Have you ever been shopping in the Produce aisle and
grabbed the last bunch of carrots? That’s because we don’t overstock things to all the food grown keep up the
appearance of abundance. Our talented buyers work directly with farmers to bring in fresh produce twice a day, and
with the kind of traffic we get for our square footage,that means a lot of fruits and vegetables moving through,
without as much waste as a conventional retailer. Produce that is left over goes into a box in a designated area
in the Produce prep room, where employees can take it home for free.
Same thing goes for deli salads, produce and perishable packaged grocery products that perfectly safe for eating
but just don’t meet our high retail standards. We believe that it’s better for the community and the environment
if someone gets to eat that food. Unlike Whole Foods, who has fired employees for taking expired foods out of the
trash (the company cites misconduct for breaking a policy that food cannot be taken without being paid for),
we believe that it’s better for the community and the environment if someone gets to eat that food.
That conviction is what also guides our donations program. Most grocery stores just throw away non salable food.
Many say it’s a food safety issue; that they don’t want to get sued. But since there are no records of any food
donors being sued in this country, the more likely explanation is that it’s just cheaper. It costs money to box up,
store, and deliver donations, and for corporations with a bottom line to consider, it makes more sense to just throw
it away. But the Wedge isn’t a strictly for-profit entity, so we can let our mission drive some of our business
decisions, like this one. Each year, we donate around $300,000 worth of non-salable food to food shelters. A large
portion of that comes from the Cooperative Partners Warehouse (CPW); they collect cases of produce about to go bad and
give it to an organization called Sister’s Camelot. From there it gets loaded onto a bus, driven into low-income
neighborhoods around Minneapolis and given away for free to anyone who walks by.
Finally, there’s the compost. Whatever we can’t sell or donate goes in there. The Table and CPW use a commercial
composting service, diverting between 85 to 100 tons of food waste from landfills
into compost each year. The Lyndale location does not have commercial composting yet (but will in the 2016 remodel),
but instead works with a great organization called Compostadores, to turn our food scraps from Produce, the Deli and
the Juice Bar into a nutrient-rich compost for local community gardens composting is an important way to combat food
waste, and it’s good for
- It allows us to conserve limited landfill space;
- It reduces greenhouse gas emissions, like methane, that are produced when organic materials break down in the
oxygen-deprived environment of a landfill;
- Composting takes a waste product and turns it into a valuable product: a natural fertilizer that can create
healthier soils and reduce our reliance on synthetic fertilizers.
We waste a lot of food in America, but it’s also a global problem. Food wastage ranks as the third worst third worst
emitter of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. There’s also the blue water footprint (the amount of water consumed to
produce all that wasted food). It’s about twice the volume of Lake Tahoe, annually. And finally, there’s all that land
that produced but-uneaten food occupies: close to 30 percent of the world’s agricultural land areas. When we think about
these impacts, about all the wild areas and biodiversity that has been lost to expand our farming efforts. And we
think about all the people in the world who are still hungry, the enormity of the problem really starts to hit home.
So what can you do to help?
Many of the issues are systemic, and will require an overhaul of how we go about the business of food. But there are
ways you can reduce your own food waste footprint, and if everyone chipped in, it would go a long way.
- Plan your menu and make a shopping list before you leave the house. Incorporate items you
already have in the fridge, and avoid impulse shopping.
- Don’t buy more than you need. Ask the Wedge’s Produce staff to cut large fruits and veggies into
smaller, more-manageable pieces.
- Learn how to store produce and dairy properly, so that it won’t go bad before you’re ready to use it.
- Use leftovers by mastering foods like omelets and stir fries; they can be made with whatever is left in the fridge.
- Start a backyard compost bin, or sign up for Minneapolis’s pilot curbside organics recycling service by contacting
For more tips on reducing waste and shopping on a budget, pick up a Wedge Basics and Beyond shopping guide at
Customer Service, or view it online:
United States Department of Agriculture
Environmental Protection Agency
Food and Agricultural Organization of the
A Legal Guide to Food Recovery, University of Kansas School of Law