Reducing food waste while fighting hunger is too huge a task for any one entity, or even a single, large sector. To quantify the problem: historically 40 million Americans face hunger, while nearly 40% of all food goes to waste. Movements to try and reverse the trend require deep collaboration among hunger relief organizations, food businesses, technology companies, funders and government.
Typically, at the heart of the work are the hunger relief organizations who depend on these other players for support. With that in mind, ReFED put out a report that included best practices for multiple stakeholders on how to support recovery organizations as they scale.
Findings and recommendations of ReFED's Scaling Food Recovery and Hunger Relief report come from insights gleaned at ReFED’s Nonprofit Food Recovery Accelerator. The accelerator offered an immersive experience for 10 organizations to learn best practices, hear from a network of experts, and share ideas and insights from their work, and the report brings that experience to a wider audience.
The report makes eight recommendations, found here and highlights tools and best practices.
All eight recommendations are solid in the eyes of Alexandria Coari, Capital & Innovation director at ReFED. But when Waste360 asked her to highlight a few particularly meaningful ones, she chose three she says are especially relevant now in light of COVID-19, which has driven the number of food insecure in the U.S. to an estimated 54 million.
The recommendations Coari highlighted include:
- Ensuring efficiency and consistency in logistics, transportation and distribution;
- Establishing strategic partnerships and collaboration; and
- Developing robust food safety procedures and education for donors around liability.
Coari elaborates on each recommendation, beginning with “Logistics, transportation and distribution.”
For perspective, food recovery organizations often depend on volunteers to pick up excess food and transport it to people in need, but with the pandemic, there are fewer volunteers, less consistency in their availability and fewer resources to train them.
So, transportation and distribution of food have been less dependable, notes Coari.
“Also, the new system we operate in has necessitated last-mile delivery even more– which is an approach that ensures food that would otherwise go to waste is reaching recipients in ways that are convenient, dignified and efficient. There are more people than ever waiting in long lines at food banks or pantries, and for them to have to do this is not efficient or dignified,” she says.
Practices leveraging both partnerships and technology have been beneficial to work around this barrier and to deliver to that “last mile.”
An example is Replate, a tech nonprofit that during COVID piloted, and is now scaling, a direct-to-home delivery service for people in need.
Regarding the second recommendation called out by Coari— “Establishing strategic partnerships and collaboration”: the focus here is on the importance of thoughtful, open dialogues among partners from the start to ensure they are all on the same page regarding what they hope to achieve. This recommendation comes with a special message to food recovery organizations—a message that especially resonates through COVID-19 when demand has risen, resources are more strained, and joined efforts are as critical as ever.
Coari tells these food recovery organizations, “You must understand the strategic mission and objective of the donor. Then you can discuss how your food rescue programs can meet those objectives. This helps align the benefits of that relationship for both parties.”
Accelerator advisor Jasmine Crowe, founder of Goodr, a for-profit waste company focused on food recovery, noted, “We should be seeing ourselves as collaborators trying to solve a problem … When you look at how big of an issue food waste is, even when Goodr scales, we are not going to be able to rescue all the food. We’re going to have to learn how to work with each other and share best practices.”
Coari moves on to the last of the recommendations she detailed: “Developing robust food safety procedures and education for donors about liability.”
Procedures have long been instituted around food quality and safety, and for years the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act has provided guidance around these procedures, as well as liability protection to donors. But the regulatory system for food varies by state. There is concern and some unclarity among donors about their potential liability should there be a public health-related issue.
“They face educational challenges," says Coari. "So it’s important for food recovery organizations to have conversations with donors about where they are protected, and what procedures are in place to recover and transport food safely whether its sanitation procedures, temperature control or others.”
Some food recovery organizations have stepped up to try and mitigate barriers themselves, setting up agreements to own all legal liability once they accept donated food. That additional reassurance, on top of the Good Samaritan Act, has allowed for more donations, she notes.
For more clarity around legal requirements, the report recommends that donors contact the local health departments where they operate.
Aside from the recommendations, Coari speaks of the role of technology in scaling food recovery organizations, a recurring topic in the report.
“Technology can help drive efficiency and has proved to be valuable when it grows and adapts along with organizations, as well as when it is designed to perform according to organizations’ needs,” she says.
It has been leveraged to support logistics, to facilitate communication and as a tracking and measurement tool, among uses.
However, no technology is a silver bullet, she warns.
Accelerator advisor Justin Block, managing director of MealConnect, Feeding America, punctuates this point, “I’m constantly reminded that technology is not a solution. It’s the people doing the work. The technology just makes it easier.”
But it’s not just the people doing the work that are part of the solution; it’s also the people who depend on them, a concept referred to in the report as “human-centered design.” This design approach is about getting a true handle on why people face hunger and what they actually need, then setting up programs around this insight.
“We make assumptions and hear from rescue organizations or food donors what’s important. Sometimes those perspectives do not come firsthand," says Coari. "It’s important to listen to people who are food insecure. Ask them, when are you available? Where is it convenient for you to pick up food? And what dietary restrictions do you have?”
By incorporating human-centered design principles, the perspective of those facing hunger remains front and center and ultimately helps set up for program success. A human-centered approach, partnerships and technology are all key.