Food Environmental Impacts and Actions

What is food rescue?

Food rescue is the act of collecting and redistributing edible food that would otherwise go unharvested or be discarded. Up to 40 percent of the food grown or imported for consumption is ultimately never eaten, while one in seven people living in the U.S. is food insecure. By “rescuing” nutritious food that would otherwise be discarded to feed hungry people, the value of that food as food is preserved. 

What DEQ is doing?

In its overall approach to the problem of wasted food, DEQ aims to “change the conversation” around wasted food, much of which has focused on the need to keep organic materials out of landfills and which minimizes consideration of food as a resource worth conserving.  Historically, DEQ has provided significant support to food rescue activities throughout Oregon, primarily through grants to local governments.  With the development of the 2050 Vision and Framework for Action and the transition of DEQ’s solid waste program to a materials management program, DEQ has increasingly turned its attention to the lifecycle impacts of materials, including rescued food.  As a consequence, DEQ has identified the need to understand the relative value and impact of diverting food from various sources (farms, groceries, restaurants) directly to food banks and other organizations that serve food insecure populations.  Some data suggest that relative costs of food may differ in meaningful ways, depending on the source.  Similarly, the nutritional value of food from different sources also may vary.  Finally, there appears to be little research specifically addressing environmental tradeoffs associated with prepared food donation (which might include impacts of trucks used to pick up and redistribute food, for example).
To help answer questions related to the sources of food rescued for consumption by food insecure people, DEQ has initiated research intended to help inform the development and implementation of food rescue programs by:
  1. Estimating the relative life cycle environmental impacts of different rescue approaches,
  2. Estimating tradeoffs in the nutritional value of food rescued from farms versus from restaurants and grocers,
  3. Estimating the relative economic impact (e.g., cost to food rescue organizations) of farm vs. restaurant/grocery rescue of food.

The Oregon Food Bank supports this research as it is in line with their interests in collecting food that is nutritionally sound and feeds hungry Oregonians in the most cost effective way.
DEQ also continues to accept grant applications from local governments and non-profit organizations engaged in food rescue, and is currently working with Metro Regional government to help administer funds Metro has made available to support grants for food rescue within the Metro region.