According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, about 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. is wasted. That waste happens at all points in the system, from the farms where fruits and vegetables are grown and animals are raised, through transportation, in wholesalers and retailers where food is stored and distributed, and ultimately, in food-related businesses, as well as at home.
The Metro Council is looking at ways to get more food out of the garbage. Food scraps like bones, eggs shells, orange peels and coffee grounds can be used to make compost, fertilizer and energy. And food that can be eaten can be directed into the hands of those who need it, instead of the garbage can.
Here’s a look at some key numbers related to food that gets tossed – and collected – in the Portland metropolitan area.
Total food waste
Residents and businesses in the greater Portland area throw away 1.3 million tons of garbage each year. Nearly a fifth of that garbage is food, enough to fill 5,000 long-haul trucks. This includes both consumable food and inedible scraps like bones and coffee grounds.
Based on studies that look at the composition of garbage, it’s estimated that the amount of food in the trash is a fairly even split between homes and businesses.
Food waste at businesses
About 28,000 tons of food scraps are currently collected from businesses around the Portland region. This is currently a voluntary practice. The biggest generators are institutions like hospitals, and large grocery stores, restaurants and cafeterias.
Many businesses also donate to food rescue agencies that get food and meals to those who need them. These donations contribute to the more than 50 million pounds of food The Oregon Food Bank collects for distribution around the state. Many smaller agencies in the region are also doing this work.
Food waste at home
Right now, three cities in greater Portland – Forest Grove, Lake Oswego and Portland – offer home collection service of food scraps to residents who live in single-family homes. That’s about 178,000 homes that can include food scraps in their yard debris bins out of the total of more than 644,000 houses and apartments in the region.
Getting more food out of the garbage
The Metro Council is now looking at ways to get more food scraps out of the garbage to cut waste and reduce the impacts of garbage on climate change. In October, Metro councilors told staff they want to know more about how a mandate on businesses to separate food scraps might work and will look at options in spring 2017. Metro staff also recently convened a stakeholder group to look at ways to support and expand food rescue.