By Emily Gousen
Last month, a diverse group of 50 food waste innovators joined 30 food businesses, funders, and policymakers at an Innovator Workshop ahead of the U.S. Food Waste Summit. Co-hosted by ReFED, Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), and the Harvard Business School Business and Environment Initiative, the event convened leaders working to implement innovative solutions that turn wasted food into jobs, hunger relief, and environmental stewardship.
According to Alexandria Coari, ReFED’s Capital & Innovation Director who helped lead the design and execution of the workshop, “With the $218 billion issue of food waste becoming a global priority, entrepreneurs, businesses, funders, and policymakers around the world have taken notice, resulting in an exciting increase in innovative products and services that are turning wasted food into jobs, hunger relief, and environmental stewardship.” The goal of the workshop was to provide a unique opportunity for the exploration of emerging trends and barriers in the sector, enabling innovators, food businesses, investors, and foundations to discuss collaborative strategies for scaling their individual and collective impact.
Our key takeaways:
The Power of Convening Is Alive and Well
There’s significant value in bringing together the many players in the food waste space. The workshop afforded innovators the opportunity to share best practices, identify complementary initiatives, and forge partnerships to maximize impact. One Berkeley-based innovator shared that he’d never had such meaningful conversations with so many individuals at a single conference.
Innovator Daniel Kurzrock of Regrained pitches to an investor
This workshop also demonstrated that curated connections multiply collective impact. Group discussions are valuable, but hand-selected pairings can accelerate specific projects and partnerships. This was exemplified during the workshop’s “speed-dating” session, when ReFED matched innovators with funders and food businesses to pitch their solutions and receive detailed advice.
Breakdown of workshop participants by solution sector
Duplication Persists Across the Solution Spectrum
Though the workshop convened innovators from across the U.S., mission and solutions model overlap was common, particularly in the food recovery sector. While a degree of duplication is inevitable given the place-based nature of food recovery, there’s ample opportunity for future consolidation or partnerships within the sector.
Geographic location of innovators in ReFED’s Innovator Database
For example, ReFED’s Innovator Database identifies more than 10 recovery innovators that focus exclusively on donation coordination at the national level. Workshops like these enable similar, yet geographically dispersed, groups to coordinate efforts and learn how best to scale their operations as part of a broader food waste ecosystem.
Big Business Is Paying Attention to Food Waste
Representation from major food companies including McDonalds, General Mills, The Kroger Co., and Whole Foods Market demonstrated the value that food waste reduction can create for businesses. Looking at food waste as a pre-competitive issue creates space for collaboration. Investing in projects that help everyone, like standardized date labels or improved food recovery infrastructure, makes good business sense.
Prioritizing food waste empowers top food companies to adopt proven solutions driven by a diverse and ever-growing group of innovators.
Emerging Public Policies Promote Food Waste Innovation
In the past year, 91 pieces of food waste-related legislation were proposed in 30 states, 22 of which have already been passed into law. Policies like organic waste bans, food safety guidance for donations, tax incentives, and liability protections were especially popular, and are expected to be proposed in additional states in the future.
At the federal level, existing legislation continues to support food recovery. For instance, the 2015 PATH Act enables businesses to claim deductions of up to 15% of income for food donations, while the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act shields food donors from liability except in cases of gross negligence or intentional misconduct. In fact, as of June 2018, not a single food donation liability case has ever been brought to court.
FLPC also discussed the new bipartisan Congressional Food Waste Caucus driving federal-level policies and provided updates on food waste-related provisions included in the 2018 Farm Bill, most notably the $25 million in annual funding for composting and food waste reduction pilots, food waste research, spoilage prevention, national milk donation program, and an amendment to create an Interagency Biogas Opportunity Task Force.
Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic Director Emily Broad Leib shares food waste policy insights
The Road Ahead
ReFED came away from the workshop with renewed excitement for the future of food waste and a reaffirmed understanding that effective solutions rely heavily on collaboration, collective action, and innovation. As one participant put it, “It was an overwhelmingly wonderful experience to be able to hear from people of all sides of food waste and to meet those who are doing work that inspire my own.” Now, it’s time to kick the action into high gear and get to work solving this very solvable issue.
Innovators: Register for ReFED’s Innovator Database to join the growing network of food waste solutions providers, and attend future ReFED events to build your network.
Foundations: Use ReFED’s Foundation Action Guide to learn about the biggest opportunities for philanthropy, and stay tuned for our Foundation Investment Report to be published October 2018.
Food Companies: Learn about our detailed research and suggestions for reducing food waste in our Retail Food Waste Action Guide, Foodservice Food Waste Action Guide, and Restaurant Food Waste Action Guide.
Investors: Take a look at the 450+ innovators around the country registered in the Innovator Database and consider investing in a company that creates value from food waste.