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Weighing in on Waste: Leveraging Markets for Health

2014 June 13
by admin

By Johanna Goetzel and Jody Dean

It would come as no surprise to most that what we eat has impacts on the plant and population health, however what we don’t eat also matters. When we discard food we lose valuable energy in the form of calories, waste the energy that went into production and transport and increase food costs through lost value.  In continued support for last week’s World Environment Day, we can link our food and consumer markets to improve health.

In the US we discard approximately 40% of the total food produced. This is equivalent to 20 lbs of food each month, or $2,275 a year of unconsumed food for a family of four.  Additionally, food waste now accounts for more than 25% of total freshwater consumption and about 4% of total US oil consumption.  The climate impacts of food waste were acknowledged by New York City Mayor de Blasio, who signed a resolution to reduce the City’s climate “foodprint.”

In parallel with the trends in waste, 46.2 million people are currently living in poverty, which is the leading cause of hunger.  This makes wasted food an even greater problem, as discarded food could have been used to meet food demand. Addressing hunger in the United States can therefore become part of larger program to reduce wasted food, energy consumption and dollars.

This connection between waste and hunger creates opportunities to tackle both issues from an entrepreneurial standpoint. One such Boston based initiative, Spoiler Alert, attempts to leverage this connection through a mobile software platform that provides real-time information on supply and demand for excess, expiring and spoiled food. This venture not only has the ability to reduce waste and address food insecurity, but also to create new revenue streams by bringing together all stakeholders in the food-supply chain.

Multinational corporations such as Walmart have also found creative ways to turn waste into value. In line with their zero waste program, Walmart has expanded their waste reduction initiatives to include not just recycling and food donations, but also a waste diversion program that transforms used cooking oil into biofuel.

These innovative cross-sector collaborations can stimulate markets to favor healthier lifestyles, improve the environment and foster sustainable practices, effectively creating a “win-win”approach to health promotion.  

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