Hannah Koski, August 23, 2021
An estimated 35% of food in the United States goes unsold or uneaten, the vast majority of which becomes food waste at significant environmental cost, while at the same time as many as 42 million people experience hunger. The potential environmental and social impacts of tackling food loss and waste are myriad, but for the business and sustainability leaders looking to take it on, the how-to isn’t always simple. Here’s how we at Blue Apron got started:
- Know your baseline. The start of any food waste reduction program is knowing your baseline — how much food is being wasted, and the reasons why. There are numerous services on the market to help companies measure food waste, or companies can build home-grown solutions. At Blue Apron, we completed a waste audit — assessing product life cycles for waste points within our fulfillment centers. We also implemented physical sortation spaces where we could easily track surplus food volumes. We developed a reason-coded drop-off form to understand what was causing the waste. This has enabled us to maintain ongoing streamlined food waste tracking, along with tracking overall waste hauling tonnage.
Understand your opportunities. With a better understanding of the causes of food waste, it becomes easier to take stock of opportunities to reduce it. Take those opportunities and plan solutions against them with program management and defined key performance indicators to ensure accountability. The EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy provides best practices that prioritize source reduction first.
- Measure your progress and track your impact. As the saying goes, you manage what you measure. Put a system, cadence, and defined ownership into place for tracking and reporting food waste data. Demonstrate and communicate the impact of changes to food waste, such as by using ReFED’s Impact Calculator or the EPA’s WARM Model. Consider setting targets, internally or externally, to give aspirational direction, or join the US Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions to join the national commitment to halving food waste by 2030.
- Repeat Waste Audit. Over time, it’s possible that food waste reduction will plateau, which can be a promising sign that a solution or solutions were successful. Once that becomes the case (or sooner), it can be helpful to repeat a waste audit or other assessment to identify other opportunities to reduce food loss and waste.
Making the business case for food waste reduction:
Trying to get buy-in to start a food waste program? Start with the business case. Food waste reduction initiatives can have a substantial return on investment — with prevention strategies in place, there’s money saved on what might have been wasted food, as well as the reduced cost of trash hauling services and a federal tax incentive for donating edible surplus food.
About Blue Apron’s food waste strategy:
In 2016, Blue Apron was the first major meal kit company in the U.S. to join the US Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions. In 2018, we collaborated with national nonprofit ReFED to address our food waste impact. Blue Apron has since established teams entirely dedicated to preventing and diverting food waste in our fulfillment centers. These teams complete product audits at receipt and in production to minimize inventory of perishable goods, optimize shelf life, and physically manage all end of life product dispositions. This includes diverting surplus food from landfills or incinerators via secondary market sales, a weekly no-cost employee food distribution program, donations to our regional food bank partners, and sending non-consumables to be used for animal feed or compost whenever possible. Since implementing our food waste reduction program and teams, we have more than halved food waste across our fulfillment centers.