Working to stop food waste

Artistic arrangement of unusual-looking vegetables, including carrots and potatoes (©
Food waste happens when grocery stores throw out "ugly" produce or expired food because consumers don't buy it. Several U.S. organizations are working to change that. (©

Food waste worsens world hunger and adds to greenhouse gas emissions, a leading cause of the climate crisis.

The United Nations estimates that roughly one-third of all food is wasted or lost globally each year. Worldwide, thrown-out food accounts for 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

In the United States, activists and organizations promote food recycling. Their efforts help to feed communities and cut carbon emissions.

Farm to trash? No way

When 14-year-old Maria Rose Belding was volunteering for charity, she saw expired food tossed in the garbage while people waited in line at a local food bank.

“It was one of the most brutal feelings I’ve ever had,” she told the BBC in January. She spent several years developing an online platform, MEANS Database.

The platform connects restaurants and grocery stores with food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and houses of worship, which distribute surplus or nearly expired food that would otherwise be thrown away.

The platform began small but grew quickly. “We started in two states [but] by the end of 2015 we had them in 26 [states]. We ran it out of my dorm” at American University, she said.

Maria Rose Belding pointing to herself while speaking at lectern (© Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
Maria Rose Belding was honored at the George H.W. Bush Points of Light Awards Gala in New York City in 2019. (© Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

Since then, MEANS Database has saved more than 3.1 billion kilograms of food and served over 537,000 meals to Americans.

The Farmlink Project, a U.S. student-led nonprofit organization, runs a similar operation by connecting farmers directly with food banks.

“We’re on a mission to create a food system that can put people and our planet first,” said CEO and co-founder James Kanoff.

Student volunteers drive farmers’ surplus produce to nearby food banks, which then distribute the food to Americans in need.

Since 2020, The Farmlink Project has rescued nearly 24.5 million kilograms of food and delivered 44.8 million meals across the United States. This prevented release of 10,300 metric tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of 2,200 cars taken off the road.

The Farmlink Project’s recently launched The Farmlink Project Mexico already has diverted over 112,000 kilograms of produce to food banks across the country.

Saving the ‘ugly’ foods

Bag of potatoes branded "Spuglies" (© Charlie Neibergall/AP Images)
“Imperfect” potatoes at a grocery store in Urbandale, Iowa, in 2019 (© Charlie Neibergall/AP Images)

Grocery stores sometimes throw out perfectly edible but cosmetically imperfect produce because consumers won’t buy “imperfect” produce.

U.S. grocery delivery service Imperfect Foods saves these fruits and vegetables from grocery stores and delivers them to people’s homes weekly.

Since Imperfect Foods’ founding seven years ago, they’ve rescued 63,049,000 kilograms of food, conserving 14.5 billion liters of water and over 35,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

“When we grow food, we want it to be eaten,” the company says, “honoring all the resources that went into growing it — water, energy, financial investment, time, and care.”