Here's a number for you: Nashville residents generate 58,378 tons of food waste per year. That’s 3.5 pounds of food per week for the average Nashvillian and 33 percent of the more than 177,000 tons generated in the city, according to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). For perspective, the food waste that Nashville residents generate per year is more than twice the weight of the Statue of Liberty.
What's more: much of the food waste is fresh. Produce and healthy foods are being sent to the landfill while more than one million Tennesseans are at risk of hunger every day, according to Second Harvest of Middle Tennessee. Whether it’s the high cosmetic standards of consumers or because an excess of food is available, the numbers show that waste is a real issue.
In Nashville, efforts to minimize the amount of waste have been underway for years. In 2015, the NRDC chose Nashville as a pilot city for the Food Waste Initiative, a project focused on “developing high-impact local policies and on-the-ground actions to address food waste.”
In January 2017, Mayor Megan Barry called on local restaurants and grocery stores via the Food Saver Challenge to examine their practices. Most recently, Barry’s office announced that two convenience centers in Nashville would begin accepting compost in an effort to cut down on the food sent to landfills to produce methane.
“Anywhere we can save money and try to be a greener city, we want to do that,” said Mary Beth Ikard, transportation and sustainability manager for the Mayor’s Office. “Nashville could act as a template for the innovative city-wide challenge that can help the U.S. reach its goal of reducing 50 percent of food waste by 2030.”
The first step was a waste audit, which determined what materials and how much of them were contributing most to the waste stream. Ikard said that the findings of this two-week-long dumpster bin dig showed that 54 percent of what was contributing to the stream was compostable.
That’s where the compost stations come in. According to Ikard, within the first week, one of the convenience center’s compost stations was already full. “Theoretically, when you look at what you’re throwing out as a household, almost everything a household generates is recyclable or compostable,” she said. “Most of what you’re not able to recycle is going to be organics, and all of that can go into compost.”
Ikard pointed back to a hierarchy created by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that she refers to in creating plans to reduce waste in the city. “[The EPA] recommends actions that organizations and municipalities can [take] to reduce food waste to feed hungry people where you can and when you can't, feed animals in the area.
“The very last step is moving to a landfill,” Ikard said. “There are lot of opportunities to reduce hunger in the community, reduce methane coming from landfill and lessen the amount of energy produced to grow in the first place.”
Booth Jewett, food donations coordinator at the Nashville Food Project, is on the front lines of the fight against food waste daily, working with farms, grocery stores and restaurants to recover food that would otherwise be sent to the landfill. The Nashville Food Project is one of many local organizations whose mission is to reduce food waste and hunger at the same time.
Jewett pointed to supporting local farms as a means of support efforts to cut down on food waste.
“It’s not a solution, but small-scale, local, organic farms tend to be much more efficient by necessity and have much less food waste than large-scale, industrial agriculture operations,” he says. “And the more you get to know your local farmer and develop a relationship with them, the more opportunities there are to foster accountability on issues like food waste.”
One of those local farmers, Eric Wooldridge of Bells Bend Farms, said composting is a natural choice when it comes to eliminating food waste — one they practice daily on the farm. “We support a food economy that demands cheapness over quality and the way a tomato looks over the way it tastes,” Wooldridge says. “Generally, people who buy our food are already learning about the problem of food waste and food insecurity, and their decision to support a local farm is a conscious effort to help heal a broken food system. Most small and mid-scale farms work by the same nothing-is-wasted approach, so supporting those small farms helps reduce food waste overall.”
Compost stations at Omohundro Convenience Center at 1019 Omohundro Place are open from 8 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and at the East Convenience Center at 943A Dr. Richard G. Adams Drive 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday. To find a list of compostable and recyclable materials and read about Nashville’s long-term zero-waste master plan, visit zerowaste.nashville.gov.