1,232 % increase: EPA recognizes University of Arizona for efforts to reduce wasted food

Food waste (Foto: © Thorsten Freyer /http://www.pixelio.de)

San Francisco, USA — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has presented the University of Arizona with an award for outstanding efforts in food recovery. The students, food service staff and university leaders, along with the Tohono O’odham Nation’s San Xavier Co-operative Farm and the City of Tucson worked together to increase food recovery by 1,232 percent from 2013 to 2014. Last year, the partnership diverted 3.4 million pounds of food waste, landscape debris, and manure from the landfill.

“This innovative zero waste partnership is a result of student, university, tribal and city leaders working together to expand composting,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “We’re pleased to see the University of Arizona taking a national leadership role in reducing food waste.”

“We are proud to take part in the EPA Food Recovery Challenge. We are also proud to have the EPA recognize that food waste is an especially serious problem in Southern Arizona due to the two million tons of produce entering the U.S. through the port at Nogales each year. We could never have been successful without the City of Tucson and the San Xavier Co-op Farm, and other partners in this community,” said Chet Phillips, sustainability coordinator for the Associated Students of the University of Arizona and Compost Cats co-founder and program coordinator.

It started with a student proposal

“We’re honored that the EPA is taking the time to visit Compost Cats. These students have shown the leadership potential of UA students, and it’s so exciting to be able to share this with a wider regional and national audience,” said Ben Champion, director of the UA’s Office of Sustainability.

The ASUA Compost Cats started with a student proposal to do something better with food scraps from the student union than send them to the landfill. In only five years, a simple student idea grew into a tri-institutional partnership program that takes in material from across Tucson, southern Arizona, and beyond. The food scraps are transformed into a valuable soil amendment that enriches local food-growing soils to help conserve water and grow more food. Over the past five years, approximately 10.4 million pounds of material have been composted.

21 percent of the American waste stream

Across the nation, almost 35 million tons of food go into our landfills annually, at a cost of more than $161 billion. Each year, the average family of four throws away about $1,600 worth of uneaten food. Food waste is the largest single material in landfills, accounting for 21 percent of the American waste stream. As food rots in a landfill, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change that’s 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide.

At the same time, one in six Americans lacks access to the nutrition they need to live an active, healthy life. While inedible food scraps are best managed by composting or anaerobic digestion, excess or leftover edible food should feed people. Surplus food can be donated to local food banks, shelters, and soup kitchens.

Over 600,000 tons diverted from landfills

In 2014, nearly 800 governments, businesses and organizations participated in EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge, including educational institutions, grocers, sports and entertainment venues and restaurants. These entities diverted wasted food from entering landfills or incinerators through a variety of innovative actions, including creative re-use of trimmings by university dining staff; donating excess, wholesome food; composting in urban settings; and using wasted food to produce electricity.

Through innovation and hard work, Food Recovery Challenge participants and endorsers have diverted over 606,000 tons of wasted food, including over 88,500 tons donated to feed people, from landfills.

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency