Local communities, groups fill in food-rescue gap left by state

Nov 30, 2022

Editor’s note: This story is part 2 of a series looking at food waste in Georgia. While the Peach State lags other states in developing definitive solutions to reducing food waste, local municipalities and organizations dedicated to reducing food waste are stepping in to fill the gap .

The Gist                          

Georgians spend a lot of money on food. So much so that it accounts for more than 13% of their total spending, giving them the fourth-highest food bills in the nation

But a lot of that food never reaches their mouths. And food waste in the state continues to have a significant impact on the environment and those less fortunate.

What’s Happening

Some 1.6 billion pounds of food — or 151 pounds per Georgian — is wasted in Georgia annually, according to Science for Georgia, the equivalent of 10 times the weight of the Washington Monument. Wasted food in Georgia amounts to nearly $2 billion, the agency reports.

Once a stalwart of monitoring food waste and its impact on Georgia,  the state has sat idle for more than a decade on the issue.

But some things may be changing.  

While Georgia lags in state-level food waste policies and laws, some in the food sustainability arena said there are signs the state is reviving some efforts.

Georgia, through the state’s Environmental Protection Division’s Recovered Materials and Abatement program, plans to distribute $2 million in Recycling, Waste Reduction and Diversion (RWD) grants to local governments to “reduce solid waste [which includes food], recover valuable materials, support manufacturing, and encourage innovation.” Grant money is slated to be awarded over the next two months.

“That's been the first monies for composting in 10-plus years since the Department of Community Affairs’ Environmental Manager Office closed,” said Suki Janssen, solid waste director for Athens-Clarke County. “Really we haven’t seen anything since.” The county has applied for a grant to buy a bigger truck to haul food and other waste.

Efforts also are underway to start a U.S. Compost Council in Georgia, which would go a long way in addressing food waste, Janssen, former president of the Georgia chapter of the Solid Waste Association of North America, said, adding that an established Georgia chapter would help with networking and education and would enable groups trying to reduce food waste to “advocate for the composting industry. Meaning we can come out for or against legislation.”

Why It Matters

While Georgia residents spend the fourth-highest amount on food nationally, a good bit of that food goes to waste when 1 in 9 adults in the state, or 1.14 million people, and 1 in 7 children go hungry each year. 

Organizations such as  Second Helpings Atlanta and Goodr, and some cities such as Atlanta and Athens, are working diligently to recycle, reduce and otherwise keep as much food out of the state’s 40 municipal waste landfills as possible. 

“We’re more focused on the pounds of food we rescue and how much food we're able to turn into meals,” said Andrea Jaron, executive director at  Second Helpings, told State Affairs

For instance, the organization works with HelloFresh, recycling firm Pratt Industries  and the city of Atlanta identifying and supplying food to areas where people are food insecure.

 Much of the effort started two years ago during the pandemic as a way to stave off food insecurity, said Jaron.

Second Helpings gets surplus food from HelloFresh’s Newnan distribution center. In turn, the food is distributed through a program called Meals with Meaning — where Pratt and HelloFresh provide meal kit ingredients, recipes and packaging while Second Helpings gets the kits assembled, packaged and delivered to places where it's needed most.

In similar fashion, Goodr recently began working with an Atlanta pastry and bread distributor that was sending thousands of pounds of its products to the landfill each week. Goodr now works with the company twice a week, sorting through the food, separating compostable items from edible food that can be sent to nonprofits and food banks in metro Atlanta to feed the hungry.

Founded in 2017 in Atlanta as a way to feed the hungry, Goodr has grown into a waste management and hunger relief company that provides food to millions nationwide and diverts millions of pounds of food from landfills.

“We’re basically like a white-glove service for them,” Grayson Stuart, sustainability coordinator at Goodr, told State Affairs. “They're giving us  all these pallets of food that's both inedible and edible. We're sorting through all the packaging to see what’s donatable to local nonprofits and what we have to compost.”

What’s Next

Meanwhile, food sustainability officials like Janssen are encouraged by the changes emerging at the state-level.

“I’m optimistic again,” Janssen said. “It looks like we’ve got state folks’ attention. We're hoping things will start to change again and we’ll be supported for waste reduction activities.  I'm looking towards the future.”

Janssen envisions that future including a state-level clearinghouse or office where officials with technical know-how guide municipalities when they call for help in dealing with food waste issues. She also sees a state-level system that distributes and monitors grants for waste diversion and follows up to make sure municipalities are using the grants properly.

A few years ago, a stakeholders group of local governments, state agencies and some nonprofits met to discuss waste reduction. Janssen believes those meetings may be starting to pay off.

“I feel like the state has heard us,” Janssen said. “We told them what we wanted. We were just repeating honestly what they got rid of at the state level and now they're listening and taking steps.”

In case you missed it: here’s Part 1.

LEARN MORE ABOUT FOOD WASTE HERE

Twitter @STATEAFFAIRSGA

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Contact Tammy Joyner on Twitter @LVJOYNER.

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