A look at ways CFAES is helping fight food waste

Fighting food waste is yet another front in the CFAES purpose of “We Sustain Life.”

Best to not waste it

“Simply put, it is easier to sustain life when we utilize all the time and resources dedicated to growing, harvesting, transporting, and selling food” instead of wasting some of that food in a landfill, says Brian Roe, who holds the Fred N. Van Buren Professorship in Farm Management in the CFAES Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics.

Roe, who studies food waste as one of his main research areas, actively advises several agencies, both government and nongovernment, on issues related to the topic.

An estimated 30–40 percent of the food America produces ends up going to waste, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And wasted food that goes to a landfill, besides having failed to feed people, rots and gives off methane, a wicked greenhouse gas that serves to only make climate change worse.

Here are just three examples of CFAES efforts involving food waste.

Ohio State Food Waste Collaborative

Roe, in his work as a Buckeye, also helped form and is the director of the Ohio State Food Waste Collaborative, described by its website it as a “collection of researchers, practitioners, and students working together to promote the reduction and redirection of food waste as an integral part of a healthy and sustainable food system.” It partners with Ohio State’s Food Innovation Center, located in CFAES’ Parker Food Science and Technology Building.

Recent activities include developing and launching a regular online survey to track national trends on household food waste; working with the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) and the Columbus suburb of Upper Arlington to evaluate SWACO’s consumer food-waste reduction campaign, “Save More Than Food”; and helping develop a national alliance of researchers and stakeholders to address the issue of wasted food, with an announcement about this expected in the near future.

“While the perishable nature of food will mean that some food will always be wasted,” Roe says, “we believe the current rates of waste”—that 30–40 percent figure—“present large opportunities for improvements for farmers, businesses, consumers, and society at large.”

Website: u.osu.edu/foodwaste

Know Food Waste

“Know more, waste less.” That’s the motto of Know Food Waste (KFW), CFAES’ 2021 Student Organization of the Year.

KFW’s actions include launching a household food waste drop-off program in conjunction with Ohio State’s Zero Waste team, thanks to funding from an Ohio State Energy Partners grant. The waste that’s collected is turned into compost, good for the soil in gardens.

Another project, being done together with the Ohio State Food Recovery Network (FRN), aims to rescue and upcycle the 400 or so bagels thrown away every week by Ohio State’s campus dining locations. The bagels, while still safe for consumption, are several days old. The plan is to turn them into long-lasting bagel chips, which then will be sold in those dining locations. The process could serve as a model for use by universities around the country.

KFW co-founder Aishwarya Badiger, a PhD student in the CFAES Department of Food Science and Technology, is a 2021 winner of Ohio State’s Scarlet, Gray, and Green Student Leadership Award.

“As future leaders in the food and agriculture industry,” she says, “we believe it is our social responsibility to consume and produce food in a conscientious manner.”

Read more: go.osu.edu/kfw

Ohio State Food Recovery Network

The Ohio State chapter of FRN has a two-part goal: eliminate food waste on the Ohio State campus, and fight food insecurity in the Columbus community. Nationally, FRN is the largest student movement against food waste and hunger in America.

At Ohio State, the group collects wasted food at campus dining locations, and donates it to people in need. Early efforts involved collecting at eight locations and donating more than 400 pounds of food per week. But things ramped up by some 40–50% in 2019. That’s when the group teamed up with Smart Campus, another Ohio State student group, to win the Ohio State Smart Campus Challenge. Included with the prize was $54,000 in funding, which enabled FRN to co-develop an application to track food donations by all the campus dining facilities, and also to buy a dedicated all-electric Nissan Leaf to use for pick-ups and deliveries.

 

“Students have seemingly boundless ideas and energy to attack important societal issues, including that of wasted food. That’s inspiring, and helps me try to match that energy in providing guidance to their efforts.”—Brian Roe, who is faculty advisor for both KFW and FRN

 

A recently secured Ohio State Linkage and Leverage grant will help the group refine the app further, including for possible use down the road by FRN chapters at other universities.

The group’s goal by 2024 is to provide 187,000 meals to people in need in Columbus and to divert 390,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Ohio State and CFAES have been “very supportive” of FRN, says the group’s president Alex Carr, a senior from the College of Engineering.

“Among the faculty and staff we’ve interacted with, nearly everyone has been excited about our mission and given us whatever we’ve needed to continue doing what we’re doing. It’s extremely encouraging to see the university so heavily invested in the success of small student organizations like ours,” he says.

“To me, it means they’re really serious about reducing food waste and their carbon footprint.”

Website: org.osu.edu/osufrn

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