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Food rescue diverts excess food to people in need

Woman holding boxes of rescued food by open car trunk

Each year in the U.S., 63 million tons of food are wasted, representing around 15% of the total waste generated.

In Hennepin County, we know from waste sorts that 20% of our trash is food. On average, 3.5 pounds of food are wasted per person per week. Of that waste, two-thirds is potentially edible.

As a leader in waste management, the county is focusing on reducing food waste. It’s one of the single most effective solutions to address climate change.

Food waste reduction combats climate change and supports disparity reduction efforts

Close up of a hand harvesting lettuce from a garden

Wasting food has upstream climate impacts.

It wastes energy used to grow, produce, transport and store food products. When food makes it to the landfill, it has a direct effect on climate change because decomposing food generates methane. 

An estimated 17% of all methane emissions come from landfills. Methane made up only 10% of the total greenhouse gas emissions nationwide in 2018. However, it traps 28 times more solar radiation than carbon dioxide. This makes it a potent driver of climate change.

According to Project Drawdown, reducing food waste has the potential to draw as much as 94 gigatons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Free vegetables sign next to fresh vegetables in cartons

Hennepin County assists food rescue organizations, restaurants, grocers, volunteers, and agricultural producers with food waste reduction efforts. This is a way to address climate change by reducing climate emissions.

The county helps organizations fund tracking systems to prevent food waste. It also supports food rescue efforts that divert excess food to people in need.

Food rescue system audit seeks to increase food donation and reduce waste

Hennepin County is auditing its food rescue system to find gaps and opportunities to increase the diversion of food to people that would otherwise go to waste. The project involves several avenues of research that will wrap up in summer 2022.

Close up of a plate with rice and chicken

In fall 2021, the county worked with food donation partners to learn which foods are being donated versus which foods are needed. The study also investigated barriers to food donation for the organizations and the people they serve.

The audit will identify:

  • Who participates in hunger relief systems
  • How these systems need to evolve
  • Ways that the voices of clients could be more prominent in the county’s hunger relief systems

The county will use research outcomes to make the county’s food rescue more effective.

Man serves food to young people from a large pot

We will use the results to identify ways the county can better support organizations rescuing food, including:

  • Identifying how the county’s food donation and rescue ecosystem could reduce food waste
  • Finding ways to ensure organizations get the food people need
  • Preventing the overproduction of the foods they don’t
  • Prioritizing highly nutritious and culturally relevant food
  • Providing greater funding for these efforts

Looking to the future

Woman looking at shelves in grocery store

The study will wrap up in late summer 2022 and a final report summarizing the findings and proposed strategies will be available in the fall.

To be part of the solution and improve your own food-waste-fighting skills, consider:

  • Creating a meal plan
  • Buying just what you need at the grocery store
  • Cooking creatively
  • Properly storing food
Family chopping vegetables in kitchen and putting food scraps in organics bin

These can have a big impact on reducing the amount of food in your home that goes to waste.

Hennepin County offers online Zero Waste Challenges to help you live a low-waste lifestyle. Check the Zero Waste Challenge webpage for updates about upcoming challenges.

During the Stop Food Waste Challenge, you can learn how to waste less food, save more money, and create a healthier environment.

Other actions

Parents with two young boys chopping vegetables in the kitchen

Create meals, not waste: Planning ahead to reduce food waste

Reducing food waste is a surprisingly powerful climate solution. Making changes in your kitchen and when you go shopping can significantly reduce the amount of food that goes to waste and save you money.

fresh vegetables

Eat the food you buy: Storing food to make it last

The cost – and impacts – of rotten apples, spoiled vegetables, leftovers that never get eaten, and questionable half carton of milk all adds up. Fortunately, there are many ways that we can store food different to make sure it gets enjoyed instead of going to waste.