Baltimore launches plan to reduce food waste with funding from Rockefeller Foundation

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“A rind is a terrible thing to waste,” says Marvin Hayes, program director for Baltimore Compost Collective, a West Baltimore community group dedicated to turning food scraps into useable compost.

Hayes and other members of the collective joined city officials Wednesday as Mayor Catherine Pugh announced a new long-term plan for the city to reduce food waste over the next 20 years. The initiative is being launched along with $200,000 in funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Baltimore joins Denver as one of two pilot cities in the U.S. selected for the funding and partnership. With the funding, Baltimore’s Office of Sustainability will hire a full-time director to oversee the Baltimore Food Waste Recovery Strategy for two years, as well as provide grant money to local organizations already working on food waste and composting. The program will also receive technical assistance form the NRDC.

The Baltimore Food Waste Recovery Strategy was formed by the Baltimore Office of Sustainability and sets a goal to reduce commercial food waste by 50 percent and residential food waste by 80 percent by 2040.

The partnership aims to accomplish three main goals:

  1. Reduce food waste through NRDC’s “Save the Food” ad campaign and community engagement, which seeks to educate residents about what they can do to help.
  2. Increase food recovery by working with grocery stores, hotels, restaurants and even farmers markets to claim safe but unused food and redirect it to communities and people who need access to healthy food.
  3. Recycle food scraps by launching composting pilot programs with residents, businesses or the city’s farmers markets.

Over the next two years the city will also look at the possibility of creating a food composting facility in the city, said Anne Draddy, sustainability coordinator at the city’s Office of Sustainability. Ideally, the city would find a private company interested in partnering on such a development, she said.

“When we compost food locally we keep dollars in our communities,” Pugh said. “For too many of our neighborhoods healthy and affordable food is still out of their reach. Composting supports local food production and food security.”

Once composted, food, trees, leaves and other scraps turn into what’s known as “black gold,” or nutrient rich soil that can be sold for a profit or reused to plant and grow food in community gardens.

The strategy is also part of a larger “Waste to Wealth” initiative launched by the Office of Sustainability in 2014. That program focuses on reducing or reusing three things in the city; wood waste, construction and demolition debris and food waste, said Andy Cook, environmental planner for the Office of Sustainability. Encouraging local dumpster rental services to include composting in their packages has yielded great results with tentative restaurant owners. This service starts them off with less responsibly, the fear of a dreadful mess clearly discourages people initially.

Two years ago, roughly 70 stakeholders from around the city met for an all-day conference to focus on how to address food waste issues. The group came away with four main topics, several of which overlap with those set forth through the partnership with NRDC.

  1. Food waste reduction and recovery.
  2. Community scale composting.
  3. Creating larger scale infrastructure for composting.
  4. Improving food waste handling in K-12 schools.

The four focus areas were used to compile a report by individuals from local institutes of higher education, city government, nonprofits and the community. That report provides case studies, strategies and short and long term goals.

“This takes a long view,” Cook said about the 20-year timeline.

Cook focused on what can be done in the short-term, such as waste audits for large institutions, community outreach through events and advertising and pilot programs like the one with NRDC. Long term, he said, the city could potentially create municipal composting facilities or even offer residential curbside pickup for compost.

Some private food waste and compost collection companies do already exist in the state, such as Waste Neutral, Veteran Compost, Compost Cab and Compost Crew, to name a few. These companies provide services to restaurants and the like interested in becoming more sustainable, and is one way business owners can immediately get involved with the food waste reduction effort, Cook said.

Source:, 9-5-2018

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