OPINION

From Waste to Resources: SWACO program helps businesses reduce food waste

Ty Marsh
SWACO

Did you know residents and businesses in central Ohio throw away more food than any other type of material, including paper, corrugated cardboard and other compostable items?  

In fact, each year we toss about 337 million pounds of food into the garbage. 

SWACO and dozens of community, business, government, academic and nonprofit partners are determined to reduce this number.  

Ty Marsh

As discussed in my October column, SWACO convened these organizations in 2018, challenging them to develop a comprehensive plan for cutting food waste in half by 2030, a goal that mirrors national and global goals set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the United Nations.  

Calling itself the Central Ohio Food Waste Initiative (COFWI), the group published a Food Waste Action Plan in 2019 that focuses on preventing food waste, rescuing and redistributing edible food and recycling food through composting and other methods.  

The plan lays out 20 ideas for reducing food waste, ranging from advocating for better food labeling and developing a consumer-awareness campaign to encouraging the growth of food-composting programs and promoting the established programs and services available to rescue, collect and process food waste.

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SWACO is supporting the Food Waste Action Plan in several ways, but we’re especially excited about one program that could make it much easier for food-service businesses to reduce the amount of wasted food that ends in the garbage.  

Our Food Waste Champions program, which was launched at the beginning of 2020, encourages businesses to reduce food waste and gives them the tools and resources needed to succeed.  

SWACO starts by auditing a Food Waste Champion’s waste and creates an action plan for reducing food waste through prevention, donation and composting.  

SWACO then provides funding for a three-month pilot composting program, gives guidance on safely donating food and provides equipment needed to reduce food waste.  

In return, SWACO asks the Champions to document diversion rates and share their results and findings with SWACO so that other businesses can learn and benefit from them.  

When we introduced the program, we invited four companies to pilot it – Wendy’s, Local Cantina, Harvest Pizzeria and OhioHealth Dublin Methodist Hospital.  

Both Harvest Pizzeria and Local Cantina agreed to participate, using composting as the primary method for reducing food waste.  

Wendy’s also is doing a pilot project with us. The fast-food chain already had taken steps to minimize food waste when it became a Food Waste Champion earlier this year.

One of its Columbus-area restaurants is testing the use of composting bins as a food waste-diversion method. The 13-week program will help Wendy’s determine if using composting bins is a feasible solution for its company-owned restaurants.  

Dublin Methodist Hospital has a compost program and is donating surplus food to Food Rescue US, which distributes the food to local food pantries and social-service agencies. It’s a smart way to reduce food waste and hunger in our community. 

Tackling food waste is integral to reaching SWACO’s goal of a 75% waste-diversion rate by 2032. That’s why we’re really excited about the Food Waste Champions program and its potential to significantly reduce the amount of food that restaurants and other food-service companies toss in the trash. 

This program is one of several approaches to reducing food waste and supporting the goals of COFWI’s Food Waste Action Plan. I’m proud of my team at SWACO for developing this program and spearheading the larger community effort to tackle the food-waste problem.  

Businesses that are interested in partnering with SWACO for food-waste reduction are encouraged to contact us at foodwaste@swaco.org.  

Ty Marsh is executive director of SWACO. Questions about its operations can be directed to him at questions@swaco.org. His office provides this column to ThisWeek Community News.