Memphis & Pittsburgh make proclamations to cut back meals waste

The US is committed to halving food waste by 2030. This 50 percent reduction is also one of the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to create a more livable world for all people. At the local level, some cities participating in the Food Matters Regional Initiative are also making public commitments to reducing food waste and building leadership, credibility and community buy-in throughout the process. Two cities in the Food Matters Regional Initiative recently made such public commitments: the city of Pittsburgh, PA and the city of Memphis, TN.

Downtown Memphis | Photo: dose creative

The regional initiative Food Matters was launched in June 2020 to combat municipal food waste and use regional synergies. It includes cohorts of five cities each in the Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast regions. Prior to launching the regional initiative, we worked closely with Nashville, Denver and Baltimore to implement food waste reduction strategies and develop a range of tools that other cities can use to implement similar solutions. Through our experience, we have found that the work was catalyzed by stakeholder engagement and media attention when cities made a public commitment, be it a mayor’s declaration or setting zero waste targets in sustainability plans. Publicly disclosing goals and plans to reduce food waste is an important way to harness the city’s leadership and build constituent support. It also documents ambitious goals, increases accountability, and can inspire other cities. As part of the Food Matters Toolbox, we have created a guide to help local governments publicly advocate reducing food waste.

Downtown Pittsburgh | Photo: Vidar Nordli Mathisen

The city of Pittsburgh published the third edition of its climate protection plan in 2018. A central goal of the plan is not to generate any waste across the city by 2030. Food is the most prevalent material in US landfills at 24% by weight, according to the latest EPA data. In order for cities to achieve their zero waste goals, avoiding food waste, saving excess food and recycling food waste destined for landfill are essential. In Pittsburgh, work to achieve this goal is led by the city’s employees working on the Food Matters Initiative. In December 2020, they worked with the Mayor’s Office to issue a proclamation, signed by Mayor Bill Peduto, declaring December “Food Month”. During the month, over ten neighborhoods and local partner organizations shared tips and resources on reducing food waste on social media. Shelly Danko + Day, Urban Agriculture and Food Policy Planner for the City of Pittsburgh, and Rebecca Bykoski, Senior Program Manager at Sustainable Pittsburgh, jointly led efforts to develop the coordinated social media messaging plan. Each week had a theme, from “reuse” (using leftovers), “reduce” (meal planning) to “dissolve” (determination to waste less). Shelly explained the origins of the proclamation and messaging campaign:

“December is traditionally a food-centric month for most people, and given the pandemic, it has been difficult to focus on the needs of one family. We thought it would be a perfect opportunity to promote the Food Matters program while also helping people plan smaller gatherings, use leftovers, and encourage them to think more about what happens to food that is wasted. “

Shelly also highlighted how the process of drafting a proclamation and coordinating communications for Food Matters Month allowed the team to get involved from stakeholders, which hopefully will translate into long-term support for the project.

The City of Memphis has similar zero-waste targets in its Memphis Area Climate Action Plan and works closely with the non-profit organization Clean Memphis on the Memphis Food Waste Project. Janet Boscarino, Executive Director of Clean Memphis, and Heidi Rupke, Food Waste Specialist at Clean Memphis, are leading the project. They worked with Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland to issue a proclamation aligning the city with the national goal of reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2030. The proclamation states that the city will work to develop a more sustainable approach to food systems by following the guidelines of The EPA’s Food Reclamation Hierarchy to Prevent Food from Wasting, Save Surplus Food, and Recycle Leftovers . Heidi says:

“As part of the Mississippi Delta, Memphis has a rich culinary heritage. By making public commitments to reducing food waste, we can work towards a more equitable distribution of current food resources and a food system that is more resilient to future change and disruption. “

The proclamation has generated increased media attention and support for the work.

Making public commitments to reduce food waste helps cement the work on food waste as part of the climate and sustainability agenda, and publicly declaring that this is a priority issue for the city helps attract a buy-in of City authorities, employees and other communities to create this will be vital to fuel efforts to reduce food waste. Public commitments can make the link between food waste and climate resilience and help drive action down the chain to address larger food systems issues. Food Matters cities like Pittsburgh and Memphis are leading the way in halving food waste by 2030. If we are to achieve this goal, we need more public engagement and action. We look forward to further public commitments and actions from the cities as part of our Food Matters Initiative and beyond.

If your city is interested in publicly advocating for food waste reduction, check out our guide.

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