Policy Initiatives for Combating Food Waste

By Yessenia Balcazar


Photo: The Guardian http://bit.ly/2fktuVr

Among the topics that were covered in my most recent courses I have taken as a sustainability studies major at Roosevelt University, I found that the topic of food waste, particularly the sources of food waste, to be simultaneously fascinating and dismaying. I was especially struck by one very specific cause of food waste that often gets overlooked by the public: the relationship between retailers and food supply policies.

More specifically, current retail food supply policies regarding aesthetic standards for foods and the expectation that product displays be consistently stocked both promote inefficiency in the food supply system that leads to food waste. Approximately 1.4 billion tons of food produced globally for human consumption is going to waste annually (Finn, 2014). In developed countries, 40% of this food waste comes from retail and consumption alone (ibid). The estimated value of food loss equates to $680 billion dollars in retail prices (Gosh et al., 2015). Food waste is a social, environmental, and economic crisis.


Source: Just eat it: A food Waste Story http://bit.ly/2rQ51i8

As it stands, current retail policies regarding food supply consist of a multitude of aesthetic standards and the requirement of having fresh, fully stocked perishables sections at all times of the day (Gunders, 2012). Blemished or disfigured food products are deemed unsuitable for supermarket retail and there are specific regulations set in place by supermarket policies that deem what are acceptable aesthetic standards (Ghosh et al, 2015). In order for food products to make it from the farm and into the food retailing system, they must match the specific measurements and coloration the policy requires (ibid). Current supermarket policy also mandates that food displays be fully stocked at all times of the day, from opening to closing.

Fortunately, all is hope is not lost. There are a multitude of retail food policy reforms that can restore efficiency in our food supply. One potential policy that can be implemented to combat the issue of food waste would be a requirement that grocery stores have a separate bin or section for perishables that did not meet cosmetic standards and sell them at a discounted price.Perishables that are overripe or near their expiration date can also be included. Not only does this work to minimize food waste, but it can also result in increased profits. While it has been argued that a possible consequence is that these sections can deter potential customers, research shows that such bins actually increase profits.

A popular grocery store in Berkley, California has implemented this idea. They offer damaged or nearly expired produce on their bargain shelf for 99 cents, and make approximately $1,500 in profits from this shelf every day (Gunders, 2012). As opposed to the typical experience of losing profits from tossing out safe to eat perishables, the implementation of this policy allows supermarkets to not only recover these losses, but actually maximize their profits over time.


An example of a “disfigured” perishables bargain bin at “Pick n Pay” grocery store. Photo source: http://www.marklives.com/2015/03/green-sky-thinking-waste-not-want-not-with-wonky-food/

A second policy option to consider would be to mandate the donation of the food that is deemed unsalable to those in need. In 2011, more than 50 million Americans lived in food insecure households (Finn, 2014). Not only would this work to diminish the issue of food waste due to current policies, but it would also work toward resolving the issue of hunger and food insecurity.

There is, however, a concern surrounding legal obligations if said donated food ends up being unsafe to the consumer in any way. Donors do not want to run the risk of a lawsuit should this end up being the case. Fortunately, this is not actually possible under the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by former President Bill Clinton in 1996 (Ghosh, et. al., 2015). The Good Samaritan Act allows donors to donate food that does not meet qualifications to be sold in supermarkets, but is still otherwise safe for consumption, to various charities while being free from any legal obligations.

A final option to consider would be to eliminate cosmetic standards and focus more heavily on the implementation of standards that truly correspond to food safety. This option would also incorporate a policy that mandates less full displays and overstocking. This works to remediate both pathways by which supermarkets are losing a great amount of profits and contributing to food waste. Similar to the evidence that supports that consumers are willing to buy cosmetically imperfect perishables, they are also typically unperturbed by shelves and displays that are not heavily stocked.

A grocery chain called Stop and Shop/Giant Landover conducted a thorough analysis of freshness and customer purchases in all of their perishable departments (cited in Gunders, 2012). In their analysis they found that current overstocking practices led to spoilage on the shelf, and thus, increased customer dissatisfaction. The results showed that customers did not even notice a reduction in choice or the less full displays, and customer satisfaction actually increased seeing as there was a reduction in spoilage on the displays, and produce was, on average, actually three days fresher than before (Gunders, 2012). Stop and Shop/Giant Landover was able to save an estimated annual $100 million by removing full stock displays and unnecessary whole-stock keeping units. Given this information, it would be a very efficient decision to implement this sort of policy into supermarkets to not only divert food waste from landfills, but also to save profits and increase consumer satisfaction.

The implementation of each of these policies promotes an increase in profits through the implementation of bargain bins, the highest possible decrease in economic loss, food loss, and food waste by eliminating cosmetic standards and overstocking, and combating the issue of hunger through the donation of perishables.

Yessenia Balcazar is a senior Sustainability Studies major at Roosevelt University, which she is also president of the student environmental organization, RU Green.

Posted in agriculture, economics, food, policy, Roosevelt, students, waste | Leave a comment

We Are Still In: Roosevelt U President Ali Affirms Paris Agreement

by Dr. Ali Malekzadeh, President of Roosevelt University

Roosevelt University recognizes our responsibility to the environment. Despite President Trump’s withdrawal . . . [on 1 June 2017] of the U.S. from the Paris Agreements, we reaffirm our commitment to national and global cooperation for a sustainable future [emphasis added]. Today I joined nearly 200 presidents of colleges and universities – and over a thousand more political and business leaders – in the endorsement of continued climate action and the effort to reduce carbon emissions, despite the absence of leadership from Washington.

In 2015 I wrote that “The task of envisioning and creating a truly sustainable world is immense and complex. Colleges and universities are not only well suited to engage in this important work through innovation, education, and community engagement, they are obliged to do so.”

RU President Ali harvests greens from the WB Rooftop Garden during the #AmDreamConf service day, 15 Sept 2016 (photo: RU)

At Roosevelt today we have an award-winning sustainability plan that includes the use of renewable energy resources, green roof gardens, recycling, efficient cooling and heating, and much more.  — President Ali Malekzadeh

We Are Still In: Open Letter to the International Community and Parties to the Paris Agreement from U.S. State, Local, and Business Leaders

We, the undersigned mayors, governors, college and university leaders, businesses, and investors are joining forces for the first time to declare that we will continue to support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement.

In December 2015 in Paris, world leaders signed the first global commitment to fight climate change. The landmark agreement succeeded where past attempts failed because it allowed each country to set its own emission reduction targets and adopt its own strategies for reaching them. In addition, nations – inspired by the actions of local and regional governments, along with businesses – came to recognize that fighting climate change brings significant economic and public health benefits.

The Trump administration’s announcement undermines a key pillar in the fight against climate change and damages the world’s ability to avoid the most dangerous and costly effects of climate change. Importantly, it is also out of step with what is happening in the United States.

In the U.S., it is local and state governments, along with businesses, that are primarily responsible for the dramatic decrease in greenhouse gas emissions in recent years. Actions by each group will multiply and accelerate in the years ahead, no matter what policies Washington may adopt.

In the absence of leadership from Washington, states, cities, colleges and universities, businesses and investors, representing a sizeable percentage of the U.S. economy will pursue ambitious climate goals, working together to take forceful action and to ensure that the U.S. remains a global leader in reducing emissions.

It is imperative that the world know that in the U.S., the actors that will provide the leadership necessary to meet our Paris commitment are found in city halls, state capitals, colleges and universities, investors and businesses.

Together, we will remain actively engaged with the international community as part of the global effort to hold warming to well below 2°C and to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy that will benefit our security, prosperity, and health.


Editor’s note: The above is reblogged from the original press release of this statement on 9 June 2017 from the Roosevelt website.

Posted in climate change, ecology, education, ethics, news, policy, Roosevelt, social justice | Leave a comment

US Abdicates Global Climate Leadership by Rejecting Paris Agreement

Editorial: On Thursday, 1 June 2017, President Trump announced that the US would reverse course on the historic 2015 Paris Agreement on mitigating climate change that united 195 nations with the goal of reducing global carbon emissions. In doing so, America joins only two other countries — Syria and Nicaragua — in rejecting the terms of the non-binding Paris Accord, which ironically was designed, in part, to placate US demands for flexibility and lack of true accountability.

This unwise and even reckless decision by the Trump administration, while hardly surprisingly from the warped standpoint of domestic politics, doesn’t just ignore ecological reality; it is an ethical failing as well as an economic blunder of epic proportions. The remaining 194 countries will now proceed with their greenhouse gas reduction strategies, per the terms of the Agreement, without the global leadership of the US, the world’s largest polluter historically and currently the second-leading GHG emitter behind China. Environmental ethics dictate that the US has the moral responsibility to do something about the problem it has played (and continues to play) a large role in creating, especially since the Earth’s atmosphere, water, and soil are a global commons.

The decision also undermines the prospects of American innovation and leadership in the growing clean energy economy, as it simultaneously evokes a nostalgia for polluting fossil fuel extraction (the long-declining coal industry) while ignoring the exploding green economy and the potential for the US to claim and profit from leadership in clean energy innovation. Forbes magazine reports that right now, over 373,000 people are employed in the solar industry, compared to 86,000 in coal — and the gulf between these two numbers is likely to grow in coming years due to inexorable market forces that began decades before the Paris Agreement.

In short, the White House and its Congressional supporters are yearning for an economic past that cannot (and should not) be revived, while ignoring the short- and long-term future potential of growing our already accelerating green/clean economy. Why they are doing so is a noxious admixture of climate change denial, extensive and longstanding ties to the fossil fuel industry (read: Scott Pruitt, now head of the EPA), and sheer political spite.

While the June 1 announcement undoubtedly appeals to the President’s core supporters, the majority of Americans — even a slim majority of Republicans — think climate change is a real problem, and that we should remain part of the Paris Agreement. Cities and states have already declared their intentions to continue reducing GHG emissions within and beyond the previously stated US reduction goals; and corporations will continue to acknowledge the reality of climate change and plan for it accordingly, because not to do so will only hurt their bottom line in the long run.

This, in short, is the lesson of sustainability: we cannot simply make ill-informed decisions based on wishful thinking rather than facts, rooted in the present moment, and willfully ignorant of the future. Combating climate change is necessarily a global effort that requires cooperation and collaboration, not a winner-and-loser(s) mentality. The Earth is an ecological commons that all countries share, and thus all nations bear responsibility for its good stewardship.

Our children understand this; just ask them. Why can’t our President?


Posted in climate change, ecology, economics, energy, ethics, green jobs, news, policy

Chicago’s City Buildings to be Powered by 100% Renewable Energy by 2025

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Park District, the Chicago Housing Authority, Fleet and Facility Management Commissioner David Reynolds, and City Colleges of Chicago announced this past April their commitment to move their buildings’ electricity use to 100 percent renewable energy by 2025.


Green Roof at City Hall Source: landarchs.com

When implemented, Chicago will be the largest major city in the country to have a 100 percent renewable energy supply for its public buildings.

“As the Trump administration pulls back on building a clean energy economy, Chicago is doubling down,” Mayor Emanuel said. “By committing the energy used to power our public buildings to wind and solar energy, we are sending a clear signal that we remain committed to building a 21st century economy here in Chicago.”

The commitment will be met through a combination of purchased energy credits, utility-supplied energy renewable energy provided by Illinois’ Renewable Portfolio Standard, and on-site generation.

Rooftop solar panels on the Shedd Aquarium, Chgo IL

Organizations like the Shedd Aquarium have already committed to powering their facilities with renewable energy. The Shedd has installed over 900 solar panels in an effort to reduce energy use by 50% by 2020. The Shedd has also retrofitted its facilities with 1,000 LED light bulbs and has installed a One-megawatt battery on its property.

The city has already made significant steps towards greening up its energy supply. In 2013, the City eliminated coal from over 1 billion kilowatt hours in electricity that is purchased on an annual basis. Since 2009, over a dozen CPS schools have had solar panels installed. And the Chicago Park District and City Colleges currently procure large portions of their energy use from renewable sources.

Editor’s Note: This post is adapted from this City of Chicago’s press release on 9 Apr 2017.

Posted in cities, conservation, economics, energy, news

Chicago Bag Tax Reduces Bag Use by Over 40%

In February of 2017, the City of Chicago introduced a 7 cent tax on each disposable bag used in an effort to cut down on bag waste and to encourage Chicagoans to bring their reusable bags on every shopping trip. Results from a preliminary study by ideas42 and researchers from New York University and theCheckout Bag Tax Placard.jpg University of Chicago Energy & Environment Lab have shown that the bag tax has already decreased the number of disposable bags used per shopping trip drop by 42%.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was pleased with the results of the bag ta and stated that “I am glad so many Chicagoans are choosing to forgo paper or plastic bags at checkout, and encourage others to help Chicago further reduce disposable bag use in the city. By decreasing our paper and plastic bag use, Chicago is making important progress in reducing our carbon footprint as well as reducing street litter and improving recycling operations.”

The bag tax aligns with efforts drafted under the Sustainable Chicago 2015 plan. the plan represents Mayor Emanuel’s vision to make Chicago a leader in sustainability and focuses on 7 key areas, one of which is Waste and Recycling. The plan also includes efforts that citizens and businesses can take on in order to contribute to Chicago’s sustainability goals.

Other results from the Bag Tax study found that residents using disposable bags decreased by 33% and about half the customers that stopped using disposable bags switched to using reusable bags or stopped using bags altogether. The city of Chicago will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the bag tax and hopes that consumers will continue to use less or no bags at the checkout.

Posted in business, cities, economics, policy, pollution, recycling, waste

SUST Symposium 4.1 (Spring 2017) @RooseveltU: Advancing Campus Sustainability, Critiquing Neoliberalism

The ACP 250 Student Orientation Team presents their work, 26 Apr 2017

As part of #EarthMonth2017 at Roosevelt University, the Sustainability Studies Program hosted its Spring 2017 SUST Symposium on Wednesday 4/26 from 2-6pm in RU’s Gage Gallery in Chicago (18 S. Michigan Avenue).

Symposium 4.1 featured nine team presentations by RU undergraduate students in the first-ever section of ACP/SUST 250 The Sustainable University. Following the student presentations, the Symposium featured a keynote address by a special guest speaker, Professor Anthony Zaragoza from the Evergreen State College (Tacoma Campus) in Washington. The setting in the Gage Gallery was apt, as surrounding us was the visual feast of the Rooftop: Second Nature photo exhibit by Brad Temkin, featuring photographs of green “eco-roofs” from around the world.

Student Team Presentations: Campus Sustainability Projects

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Faculty Keynote: Neoliberalism in the Neighborhood

After the round of student presentations and a break for refreshments, our Symposium featured a keynote address by a special guest speaker, Professor Anthony Zaragoza from the Evergreen State College (Tacoma Campus) in Washington, who presented a dynamic talk on social justice, political economy, and community development entitled “Neoliberalism in the Neighborhood.”

The moment was somewhat historic, in that it represented the first faculty presentation at the Roosevelt SUST Symposium since its inception in 2012. Professor Zaragoza’s visit was co-sponsored by Roosevelt’s SUST Program as well as the new Resilience Studies Consortium of US colleges and universities, of which RU is a charter member.

Dr. Anthony Zaragoza speaks at the Spring 2017 SUST Symposium (photo: M. Bryson)

Links to Past Symposia

  • Symposium 1.1 (Fall 2013): Alison Breeding, Kyle Huff, Ron Taylor
  • Symposium 1.2 (Spring 2014): Colleen Dennis, Jordan Ewbank, Mary Beth Radeck
  • Symposium 2.1 (Spring 2015): Melanie Blume, Rebecca Quesnell, Mary Rasic, Emily Rhea
  • Symposium 2.2 (Fall 2015): Shannon Conway, Laura Miller Hill, Karen Craig
  • Symposium 3.1 (Spring 2016): Student teams from SUST 390 The Sustainable Campus (honors); individual presentations by Lindsey Sharp, Cassidy Avent, Tiffany Mucci-Heitman, and Lacy Reyna
Posted in activities, education, events, faculty, presentations, research, Roosevelt, science, social justice, students

World Fair Trade Day Festival in Downtown Chicago Today, May 3rd

This event today is downtown Chicago not only is happening on a rare sunny day this spring, but also dovetails beautifully with the efforts of the RU Green student organization and the Fair Trade campus sustainability student team from SUST 250 this semester to promote Fair Trade on Roosevelt’s campus and work to get the university certified as a Fair Trade institution. To see the Fair Trade team’s presentation from last week’s SUST Symposium, click on the image below:

Pp Fair Trade symposium slides S17


Posted in activities, community, economics, education, ethics, events, food, social justice