Reducing Food Waste: Capitol Solutions
On one of my many school visits, I visited an elementary school here in the Third District. I sat with students during their breakfast and when the bell rang, signaling the time to head to their classroom, I watched students walk to the garbage can and dump trays full of food into it. Whole bananas, unopened cartons of milk, and other untouched foods simply dropped into the trash.
I thought to myself - something is not right here, that's perfectly good and unspoiled food being wasted. I said to a few students that when I come back next time, I hope you'll change this practice and find a way to save those food items so others can benefit from them. The students accepted the challenge and said they believed they could find a way to save the food to benefit others.
When I returned several months later, the students were using share baskets at their tables to place food they didn't consume into them so other students who were hungry or whose family needed it at home could take it. They were proud of coming up with a solution. And I was proud of them.
In the United States, 40 percent of our food is lost or wasted somewhere along the food supply chain. Billions of pounds of food end up in landfills or down the drain, and much of it was safe for consumption before it was thrown away. At the same time, millions struggle to put food on the table and many go hungry.
As a society, we must act. We can do better. There are hungry people in our country and around the world. They are in our communities and just down the street. As the population continues to grow, we will need to be more efficient and make sure we utilize food our farmers and producers work so hard to grow.
Members of Congress aren’t necessarily experts when it comes to the many issues deliberated, so it’s important we bring together experts and advocates working on the issues we are discussing and debating. To do that, my Democrat colleague from Maine - Representative Chellie Pingree - and I started the Food Waste Caucus.
This caucus will bring bipartisan members of Congress together with those from the non- profit, private, and public sectors to discover and advance solutions on how we can all work together to reduce food waste and help feed those who are hungry.
We did exactly that last week. Rep. Pingree and I joined U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue at a roundtable discussion with stakeholders from around the country to discuss the challenges and opportunities to address food waste.
We heard how some food banks work with farmers by going to fields to glean and collect imperfect crops growers can’t use which would otherwise be plowed over or allowed to rot. We learned how restaurants work with farms to use nonedible food waste as fertilizer or to feed their livestock.
We heard from nonprofits using new technologies to monitor and help distribute unused food to communities. We heard from private entities, such as food providers for college cafeterias and restaurant chains who are finding ways to cut down on waste.
If we want to cut the amount of food waste in half by 2030, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency set out as a goal, it will take all of us working together to get there. It will have to happen in our homes, on farms, at grocery stores and restaurants, within processing facilities, and everywhere in between.
Together, I am confident we can cut food waste while addressing hunger issues felt by too many Americans. I’m committed to working together toward this goal. I hope others - like you - will be more conscious of food waste and help solve this problem.