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The following are Mayor Wheeler’s remarks as prepared for The Global Climate Action Summit’s event “MORE FEAST, LESS FOOTPRINT: New Goals and Progress Towards Wasting Less Food” more info on the event can be found at: https://www.globalclimateactionsummit.org/events/more-feast-less-footprint-new-goals-and-progress-towards-wasting-less-food/
Mayor Wheeler: The City of Portland has a well-earned reputation for being a leader in sustainability and climate change.
In fact, 25 years ago, Portland became the first U.S. city to adopt a formal plan to address climate change. And we’ve seen real results since. Portland’s emissions are 19% below 1990 levels as of 2016. Over that same period, the number of jobs has increased by 31% and the population has increased by 37%. Per person, emissions are 41% below 1990 levels.
Portland has demonstrated that you can have both a growing industry and population and still achieve significant carbon reductions. But we need to do more, and reducing wasted food is a core component. In Portland, we have set a goal in our Climate Action Plan to reduce food scraps sent to landfills by 90%.
The time is ripe for reducing wasted food, and we are proud to sign on to the Pacific Coast Collaborative commitment to cut food waste in half by 2030.
When it comes to implementing a strategy to achieve that ambitious goal, we need to focus on three core components: Prevention, rescue, and recovery.
Of the three strategies needed to reduce wasted food, prevention has the greatest potential to reduce greenhouse gases. This is because most of the carbon footprint of food is in production, not in the disposal.
By preventing edible food from being thrown away, we prevent the generation of greenhouse gases associated with growing, harvesting, transporting, preparing and storing food that is never eaten.
Rescue involves redistributing surplus edible food to other users. For example, grocery stores donate blemished but perfectly edible produce to food banks and caterers distribute uneaten meals to homeless shelters.
In Portland, we have a lot of need—but we have a lot of great work going on, too. And we find that by being better stewards of our abundant food resources we can help the planet and feed hungry people. In fact, we must do both.
Governments can assist in rescue efforts by partnering with food banks, hunger relief agencies and other appropriate stakeholders to reduce barriers and better enable food donation opportunities.
Things like funding infrastructure, building donor awareness and developing policies that help streamline and enhance the donation process are critical to ensuring hungry people are getting good, fresh and nutritionally sound food that otherwise would go to waste.
Finally, recovery refers to processing inedible food waste to extract value from it, typically through either composting or anaerobic digestion. Ideally, inedible food scraps are used to feed animals by turning it into feedstock.
Both composting and anaerobic digestion reduce methane emissions from landfills.
Food waste is a global problem that touches everyone. Through regional collaboration, we have an opportunity to address environmental, hunger and climate change crises by reducing wasted food and increasing food recovery.
Many Portland businesses have been collecting food scraps since 2005. In 2011, we rolled out residential food scrap collection. Food scraps were added to the yard debris roll carts and collected weekly.
To encourage participation and keep program costs down we switched to every-other-week garbage collection.
Partnerships are key in any project like this and our experience was not exceptional in that regard.
Getting a program like this up and running can be challenging—jurisdictions can stumble over cost, logistical hurdles, and political will. But Portland residents are big foodies and big gardeners, and they loved the idea of putting their food scraps to use.
The mayor at the time was a strong advocate of the program and helped tackled the biggest logistical challenge of not having a composting operation nearby that was permitted to accept food scraps.
We had to work with our private partners to help them see opportunity in the idea. Once we had facilities up and running, we needed to work with Metro, our regional governments that operate our public transfer stations, to get them to accept the yard debris and food scrap mix from our residents.
Once we had those operational puzzle pieces in place, we tested the new program with our franchised garbage and recycling collection companies and worked closely with them to set new rates and ensure the program rolled out smoothly.
Portland’s food scrap recovery program has been quite successful—we’ve been tracking our progress and 90% of the residential roll carts we check have food scraps in them.
We have also found that about 40% of the food scraps residents toss end up in the composting roll cart. The result is that since 2009, Portland has reduced the food scraps we send to the landfill by 22%.
There is no silver bullet solution for wasted food—this has to be a multi-pronged effort. I think local and state efforts can be symbiotic as some approaches are best rolled out on the local level and some are best enacted at the state or provincial level.
For example, local government can work well in the behavior change realm by interacting directly with residents and businesses via awareness campaigns, challenges, and technical assistance. We can also work quickly to test new approaches and develop partnerships that can be used to develop case studies and best practices.
Portland’s own example of this is the Climate Action Now! (CAN campaign for residents, which includes a Your Food section that provides residents with specific tools and information to help reduce food waste at home. The campaign promotes the following food waste prevention strategies: 1) Plan meals and only buy what you need; 2) Store food properly to keep it fresher longer and 3) Eat what you buy. Tools and resources are shared online, through social media, in conversations with residents at community events and through our twice-yearly Curbsider newsletter.
We also work with food service businesses to help them reduce wasted food. We’re partnering with the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Metro and other local governments to deliver the Food Waste Stops with Me and the Wasted Food, Wasted Money campaigns.
The campaigns include podcasts, webinars, case studies and free technical assistance to help food service businesses first identify and measure wasted food, reduce food waste and to donate and compost the rest.
These efforts are successful and benefit a business’ bottom line. Studies show that nearly all businesses that try to reduce their wasted food through measurement tactics, employee training and waste prevention practices experienced a positive ROI. Over half of businesses studied had a $14 return on every dollar invested into their food waste prevention program.
We’re also proud to participate in several other important partnerships to advance these efforts:
Sometimes local government can use regulatory authority as well. Starting in 2020, the largest Portland food generating businesses will be required to collect their food scraps for recovery. We are starting now to help get businesses on board by providing 300 businesses a year with free technical assistance, training, tools, and resources to set up service.
Our state Department of Environmental Quality helps set priorities through its long-range planning and technically-proficient research and analysis. We rely on DEQ to help measure our progress over time by conducting regular analyses of the amount of food we send to the landfill.
DEQ has developed resources and campaigns informed by this research and behavior-change science for local governments to implement. Additionally, DEQ provides grants to test innovative approaches or to help local organizations expand their work.
1. Why is the role of cities so important to reduce food waste at the local level?
Mayor Wheeler: Cities hold an enormous amount of authority when it comes to affecting change at a local level. Perhaps more importantly, cities are where we have and can continue to make huge progress in the fight against climate change.
As such, the role that cities play in food waste reduction has never been more important. We are charged with leading the continued development of new tools and programs that will lead us to our shared goal of cutting our food waste in half by 2030. To reach this objective, the work must absolutely begin at the city level.
2. Can you give some examples of what your city (or a city you work with) is doing to reduce food waste now?
Mayor Wheeler: Portland has been a municipal leader on efforts to reduce our food waste for a number of years. Currently, we’re maintaining a residential organics collection program that engages Portlanders by providing them a service that picks up their food scraps.
We’re also working with a number of intergovernmental and external stakeholders to implement various programs that encourage the continued efforts and development of tools and resources that work to reduce wasted food.
3. A goal of 50% reduction of wasted food in just over 10 years ambitious. Is it achievable?
Mayor Wheeler: It is ambitious, but I truly believe it is achievable. It will take a comprehensive and multi-pronged approach and will need to involve stakeholders from within and outside of our governments, but it is absolutely achievable.
4. How do the impacts of wasted food—and the solutions to wasting less food—cut across diverse issues local and state governments are focused on, including climate change but also economic development and food security, to name just a few?
Mayor Wheeler: Like many other byproducts of climate change, the issue of food waste disproportionately affects at-risk communities.
There is an opportunity in developing solutions to this larger problem, like the Pacific Coast Collaborative commitment, to initiate conversations and implement strategies that will aim to benefit individuals and communities struggling because of hunger issues, food insecurity or the adverse impacts of economic development.
5. Many of your cities have sustainability and/or climate goals already in place. How would food waste efforts and food waste-related goals complement those ongoing efforts?
Mayor Wheeler: Portland was the first U.S. city to adopt a comprehensive climate action plan in 1993.
Food waste reduction efforts have been part of Portland’s planning process since 2005 when many businesses started collecting food scraps. In 2009, the city rolled out its residential food scrap collection program to focus on recovery of food waste.
Moving forward, we know that food—production, consumption, maintenance, and waste—is a major contributor to climate change.
In Portland, we’re planning to continue devoting staff and resources toward developing and implementing solutions and strategies to food waste reduction efforts.
6. How does working to address wasted food at a local and state level increase opportunity to directly engage a wider group of key actors and stakeholders?
Mayor Wheeler: Local governments have the ability to influence behavior changes by working directly with residents and businesses through vehicles like awareness campaigns and technical assistance.
This puts governments in a unique position to bring together stakeholders and engage in partnerships with nonprofits, inter-governmental agencies and both the private and public sectors.
Portland is involved in a number of partnerships that are working together to reduce food waste through many of these programs and campaigns. For example, the City works with Food Services of America to identify more food service businesses that we can support to improve their food waste prevention practices.
7. How does state-level support for food waste reduction drive efforts at the local and national level? What are some of the state level-action that are currently driving progress?
Mayor Wheeler: Right now, we’re all aware that we must continue putting pressure on our national government to act when it comes to developing and implementing new strategies for food waste reduction.
Cities have a disproportionate amount of power when it comes to that charge, and I’m proud of my own city and state for its leadership in this very important arena.
Many people look to Portland to set the standard for action on environmental issues. Our work in both the City of Portland and at a larger statewide level will hopefully continue to apply pressure to national influencers when it comes to food waste reduction.
8. When you go back to your city, what’s the call to action you’ll make to local stakeholders and residents regarding food waste?
Mayor Wheeler: I’ll encourage them to keep collaborating and to take the work they’re already doing with our partners like the Pacific Coast Collaborative to the next level.
What is apparent is how important addressing the topic of food waste is in relation to the larger fight to mitigate the impacts of climate change. As Mayor, I’ll make sure that importance is underscored in Portland’s work on this issue moving forward.
It is my hope that the emphasis on addressing food waste and finding solutions to this global issue can help inspire more commitments and solutions like the 50% by 2030 that we’re all working toward in the future.