Researchers, Students and Community Come Together to Reduce Food Waste

By Sydney Seymour
Outreach and Engagement Communications Intern

Food waste is a big issue; specifically, a 133 billion pound issue that often goes unnoticed in everyday life. According to the USDA, the United States wastes 30-40 percent of the food supply, and food waste is the single largest element going into municipal landfills.

The amount of food waste in the U.S. has a plethora of negative impacts on food security, resource conservation and climate change, which are just a few of the reasons why Brian Roe, Van Buren professor in the Department of Agriculture, Environmental and Development Economics, helped create the OSU Food Waste Collaborative.

"Food waste has angles to everything including the farm side, the environmental side, the business side and the consumer side... [Food waste] has the chance to really improve lives if it were addressed," Roe explained.

The OSU Food Waste Collaborative is a collective of researchers, practitioners and students working to improve lives by promoting healthy and sustainable food waste practices through research and consultation efforts at the consumer and household level. The collaborative has already begun to see its effects on the Ohio State community as they plan initial meetings with OSU Dining Services and the Wexner Medical Center.

At the national level, individuals from the OSU Food Waste Collaborative have provided their expertise to the USDA as they try to improve data collection and reporting associated with food waste. "Many of the statistics you see about 31% of food being wasted in the U.S. comes from the USDA, so people from our group are helping them improve that data collection and communication process," Roe explained.

Food Wast Conference photo

The 2017 OSU Food Waste Conference, held on September 15, 2017 at the Nationwide 4-H Center.

Part of the collaborative's outreach efforts include the annual OSU Food Waste Conference, which boasts an impressive panel of speakers from other universities as well as national organizations. The 2017 OSU Food Waste Conference focused on food waste policy and legislation and included presentations from professors Roni Neff of Johns Hopkins University and Christina Rice of the Harvard Food Law Policy Clinic.

Not only has the OSU Food Waste Collaborative provided valuable insight to community partners and leaders, it has also provided the opportunity for Ohio State students to combat the issue of food waste with their own projects and research.

Sarah Grossman is an Environment, Economy, Development and Sustainability major with a passion for working to solve the food waste crisis. As a member of the SUSTAINS Learning Community, Grossman teamed up with her peers to formulate a plan for a compositing project that would take place in North Campus residence halls.

"We worked specifically with Dr. Roe from the Food Waste Collaborative. He helped us with our project not only by providing excellent suggestions and funding to get started, but also put us in contact with many other university departments that were necessary for the success of the project," Grossman said.

The North Campus Composting pilot project was able to divert 367 pounds of food from landfills, and projections indicated that if the project were to expand to all on-campus residence halls, the OSU Food Waste Collaborative could divert 13 tons of food over two semesters.

Sarah Grossman

Sarah Grossman presenting at the 2017 OSU Food Waste Conference.

Grossman was also in attendance at the 2017 OSU Food Waste Conference where she presented a poster that showcased the results and successes of the composting pilot project. "It was extremely rewarding to hear from all the other voices on campus that are working so diligently on improving food waste issues," Grossman recalled.

When asked about the benefits of partnering with external groups, Roe was very enthusiastic. "It's been very helpful. There's an amazing amount of energy and expertise throughout the community in the private sector, the nonprofit sector and the government sector," he explained.

The collaborative is partnered with The Ohio State Food Innovation Center and receives funding from the Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFACT) Discovery Theme. Additionally, the collaborative maintains a partnership with Resources 100, a consulting company headed by one of the collaborative's board members, Mike Long.

Food waste is a national issue, but Ohio State has proven to be at the forefront of the fight against unnecessary food waste. "Having something this diverse, I don't think I've seen it anywhere else," Roe said.

Being a research and consultation leader in the area of food waste initiatives and policy has allowed Roe and the OSU Food Waste Collaborative to set important goals for themselves. The Collaborative is currently in the process of developing a smart-phone app that will assist with data collection about the amount of food consumers waste.

Roe is also turning his focus towards the betterment of the Ohio State community. "We would like to devise a campus-wide food waste reduction strategy that can feed into [the university's] overall sustainability goals." Roe explained.

Grossman agrees that Ohio State has the opportunity to be a leader in food waste initiatives.

"Environmental movements must start somewhere." Grossman said. "And I think that if Ohio State can accomplish successful food waste and composting programs, then we can lead by example and help solve food waste issues on a larger, national scale."


Program website: https://u.osu.edu/foodwaste

Contact: Brian Roe, roe.30@osu.edu