World Wildlife Fund Sustainability Works

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ReFED: Advancing Solutions to Food Loss and Waste During the Time of COVID

  • Date: 11 August 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major ongoing food supply chain disruption. Widespread food business and market closures have led to massive surges in on-farm food loss across a variety of products and commodities; at the same time, there’s a growing number of food insecure people around the world.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, an estimated 30-40% of food was estimated to be lost or wasted from farm to fork, and yet more than 37 million people, including more than 11 million children, lived in food insecure households in the US. The current landscape has exacerbated this gap in the food system on both aspects. Feeding America has estimated that in one dire scenario approximately 54 million Americans (1 in 6) would experience food insecurity in 2020, including 18 million children (1 in 4). While there aren’t yet precise estimates on tons of food lost, many of you will have seen videos, articles, and tweets sharing the devastating amounts of dairy, livestock, and other crop loss occurring as large scale farms lost their usual customers and had to dump harvests down the drain or into landfills.

We have a moral imperative to address these challenges--for the environment and, above all, for the millions of people who need food now. The ReFED COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund was launched by the national nonprofit working to advance solutions to food loss and waste, along with several collaborating partners, to quickly deliver funding to organizations capable of rapidly scaling food waste reduction and hunger relief efforts, including recovering food from farms, eliminating logistical constraints along the supply chain, and overcoming barriers for last-mile delivery to those in need. WWF is proud to be one of those Collaborating Partners in the Fund, which has raised and granted more than $3.5M to benefit 37 organizations that collectively are rescuing more than 50 million pounds of food--or 41.5 million meals--within just three months and delivering to communities where the pandemic has hit hardest. 

Along with the potential to help local communities by recovering healthy, nutritious food at risk of going to waste, this work helps prevent waste of the natural resources that go towards producing food and avoid associated climate impacts. Using the EPA’s WARM model, over a 90-day period the Fund and its grantees could avoid more than 100,000 MTC02e of greenhouse gas emissions.

Every grantee of this program has an inspiring story to tell. For example, Aloha Harvest is scaling hunger relief efforts in Hawaii by working with local farmers, ranchers, fisherman, and distributors to get nutritious food to those in need, including children, seniors, and those who’ve lost their livelihoods by the decline in island tourism. In the next 90 days, they expect to rescue more than a million pounds of food.

The Farmlink Project is a nonprofit grassroots movement connecting farms that normally served the restaurant market with food banks to ensure that surplus food is redirected to feed thousands in need while supporting essential farm workers and trucker jobs. They’ve rescued over 250,000 pound of fresh food, from goat milk to potatoes, distributing it to food banks from Los Angeles, to Detroit, to Navajo communities located in New Mexico and Arizona.

More than one-third of the grantees are focused on rescuing food directly from farms, a challenge in the system that WWF has also been investigating for several years. In its No Food Left Behind work, WWF’s Food Loss and Waste team seeks to better understand the drivers behind food loss in the supply chain and overcome the challenges of getting more surplus food to people in need—information that will help these grantees reach their goals.

The pandemic has changed the landscape and demanded innovative solutions at an urgent pace, and WWF is glad to be a part of a national effort to solve these extreme challenges. The ReFED COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund also gives us a unique opportunity to learn from some amazing local organizations, and see what changes we may make to build resilience into our food systems in the future.

But there is so much more work to be done to scale the efforts of these grantees and others also engaged in this critical effort. To learn about more than 140 food rescue organizations, check out ReFED’s COVID-19 Food Waste Fundable Initiatives Directory.