Following nearly a year of community engagement and planning, the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) now has a multifaceted action plan to address food waste and leverage it for the region’s benefit. The Food Waste Action Plan is the result of contributions made by more than 60 organizations and businesses that participate in the Central Ohio Food Waste Initiative and aims to cut Central Ohio’s food waste in half by 2030 through waste prevention, food rescue and recycling. This goal reflects and supports the national and global goal set by the U.N. and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for reducing food waste.
“Throughout Franklin County and Central Ohio, meaningful work is being performed by various groups, organizations and governments to support our local food system, stem hunger and reduce waste,” said Kyle O’Keefe, SWACO’s director of innovation and programs, in a statement. “We applaud those efforts and appreciate all of the collaboration those partners have provided in regard to preventing food waste and the development of the Food Waste Action Plan.”
“As Central Ohio’s population continues to grow, SWACO sought to bring these partners together to create a plan that identifies opportunities and solutions for the community to coalesce around and pursue and that will help SWACO fulfill its mission to improve the solid waste stream and increase diversion,” added O’Keefe.
As a result, the Food Waste Action Plan is not a comprehensive document but rather seeks to complement the existing work of others, including the Columbus-Franklin County Local Food Action Plan.
SWACO estimates that 12.8 percent of all material landfilled by residents and businesses in Franklin County is food waste. That equates to almost one million pounds of food waste sent to the landfill each day. The amount of food landfilled each year in Central Ohio also represents about 192 million meals being wasted. In addition, Mid-Ohio Foodbank estimates that 69 million meals are missed every year by residents that go hungry.
By wasting food locally, SWACO estimates that 41 billion gallons of water is lost each year as is the energy equivalent of 22 million gallons of gasoline, and 160,000 acres of land is used to grow food that would not be eaten, which is roughly half the size of Franklin County.
Additionally, landfilling food cost Franklin County more than $6 million dollars each year.
SWACO’s plan outlines three areas of focus: waste prevention, rescue and recycling. In each of these categories, the plan proposes a series of solutions and recommends the following action items as the best places to start: promote existing services and programs, support school curriculum and in-school diversion programs and create a consumer in-home awareness education campaign. Activities for each of these items are already underway.
Promoting Existing Services
Opportunities are available for residents and businesses to begin taking action today. Services and outlets for rescuing and redistributing edible food are available through organizations such as Mid-Ohio Foodbank, Food Rescue U.S. and numerous food pantries. Local food waste composters are now providing collection services to businesses throughout the region and from residents at designated drop-off locations. There also is a wealth of existing information and tools available on how to properly compost at home, tips to reduce food waste in the home and when cooking for a group or planning for a party and more.
All of those resources are now available on a new website COFWI.org, which serves as a one-stop online resource for this information in the region. Residents and businesses are encouraged to utilize this to answer their food waste questions and plan stakeholders will support the promotion of the website to increase its visibility.
School Curriculum and Food Waste Diversion Programs
The plan identifies schools as an ideal platform for waste reduction and diversion efforts given their role in educating future generations and serving as cornerstones of our communities. To that end, SWACO already has begun working with a number of local school districts to implement these activities.
Last year, SWACO received a grant from Kroger and World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) to complete an in-school waste audit at four Columbus City Schools and to introduce WWFs Food Waste Warrior Curriculum. Additionally, last year, SWACO provided nearly $10,000 to pilot a cafeteria food waste prevention and composting program, which included the use of outdoor tumblers for composting, vermicomposting—or composting with worms—and helped to support the hiring of a collection service company to assist with composting cafeteria food waste. SWACO has been working with Hilliard City Schools to implement food waste composting efforts within the school system.
The outcomes of these projects will include food waste measurements, documentation and studies of the impacts and creation of new lesson plans and resources. SWACO and Central Ohio Food Waste Initiative members will make these resources available to schools throughout the region.
“It’s absurd the amount of food we waste yet people go to bed hungry in Ohio,” said Amy McCormick, Kroger corporate affairs manager, in a statement. “It is essential that we teach children to recognize this disparity early on and, more importantly, what they and their families can do to be a part of the solution. SWACO is a trusted partner in our Zero Hunger | Zero Waste journey, and we’re optimistic the new Food Waste Warrior Curriculum and Central Ohio Food Waste Initiative will begin to incrementally transform households and communities across our city.”
Consumer Awareness Campaign
Later this year, SWACO will launch a consumer awareness campaign aimed at changing the habits of individuals when it comes to how they purchase and consume food. The campaign will define the barriers and benefits for consumers to change their behaviors, develop a brand for the campaign as well as a suite of educational materials and a multifaceted media plan with associated metrics and goals.
Beginning the week of May 20, the public is invited to participate in a survey about their current behaviors, approach to food waste and knowledge on the subject matter. Responses will be used to help shape the messages and direction of the educational materials. The survey will be available at COFWI.org.
In addition to helping guide the work of the Central Ohio Food Waste Initiative in these three areas, SWACO also is completing a Food Waste Composting Feasibility Study that will evaluate conditions, business models and partnership strategies for establishing the needed infrastructure to support larger-scale operations for composting food waste. This study will help to inform the future work undertaken as a result of the plan. The study will be complete this summer.