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?

DEQ’s Materials Management program envisions that in 2050, Oregonians produce and use materials responsibly—conserving resources, protecting the environment and living well. One important material, both in terms of its environmental impact and connection to well-being, is food. To address the scale of this problem, DEQ developed a Strategic Plan for Preventing the Wasting of Food  that aims to change the conversation from a focus on managing food waste to preventing wasted food in the first place.
 
There is wide acceptance that edible food rescue – recovering surplus food and redistributing it to food insecure people – is a powerful solution for social, environmental, and economic issues related to both food waste and food insecurity. Food rescue is seen as a way to bridge the gap between excess and access. In some cases, keeping food out of landfills has become a justification for rescuing all surplus food regardless of its nutritional value, cost or other environmental impacts. However, not all food rescue is created equal—its benefits and burdens vary widely depending on many factors, including the source, quality and type of food, how it is rescued and redistributed, how much it costs the hunger relief sector to recover, and how much goes uneaten in the end.
 
In 2019, DEQ conducted an ISO-compliant Life Cycle Assessment of nine of the most common food rescue methods in Oregon to better understand the relative value and environmental impacts and trade-offs of diverting food from various sources (farms, groceries, restaurants) directly to food banks and other organizations that serve food insecure populations. 
 

Supplemental Information
  • The amount of rescued food that ends up being wasted anyway – both at the rescue organization and by the recipient – is a significant driver of overall life cycle impacts.
  • The mode and distance of transport also matter significantly to the final impact results. The least efficient means of transporting rescued food was by passenger vehicle.
  • Diverting food from landfills provides environmental benefits; however the magnitude of those benefits must be considered along with the impacts of food rescue activities. In some cases, the impacts of food rescue activities exceed the benefits of diverting food from landfill.
  • The impacts of facilities and operations associated with rescue were consistently a small contributor to the overall lifecycle impacts of rescued food.
  • End-of-life disposition (landfill, aerobic composting, incineration, or anaerobic digestion) of food that is lost or wasted was often a small contributor to life cycle impacts across all categories.  However, it became meaningful for instances where loss or waste rates were high.
  • When including the upstream production of food and distribution, the relevance of food rescue becomes minimal. Upstream production dominates the life cycle impacts.

 

Contact

If you are interested in finding out more about this study, please contact the Peter Canepa at 503-229-5467.