For Julie Raskin, the key to the elimination of food waste is to make it fun. Raskin and the Sanitation Foundation team are set to accomplish that goal with this year’s Food Waste Fair.
More than 1.3 million tons of food waste are thrown out every year by NYC residents and businesses, according to the Sanitation Foundation. This accounts for about a third of NYC garbage. In 2017, the first NYC Food Waste Fair was conceived to support businesses in trying to make the transition to tackling food waste.
With then Commissioner Kathryn Garcia at the helm, New York City through the Department of Sanitation, implemented a law that required food businesses of a certain size to start composting their food waste or finding some other beneficial reuse for it. “When that law was imposed, the Foundation saw the opportunity to accelerate compliance by supporting for those businesses with resources,” Raskin explained.
The event is held every other year. In 2019, the NYC Food Waste Fair coincided with the New York State Food Recovery and Recycling Act, which highlighted the importance of food waste reduction through donations. With the 2021 NYC Food Waste Fair on the horizon – slated to take place the week of June 14 – it’s no surprise that an integral theme for this year’s event will be tackling the challenges the pandemic has created with waste collection and diversion.
As with so many aspects of everyday life disrupted by the pandemic, flaws and vulnerabilities throughout the food systems were magnified in 2020 as New Yorkers had to adjust the way they purchase, eat and dispose of food. “It’s more important than ever that we amplify the voices of the people doing right by our city and our environment, provide resources and information to our residents, and lead the world by example,” Raskin continued.
The NYC Food Waste Fair is a resource fair where restaurant managers, grocery store owners, or food managers can go and find all of their options for eliminating food waste. Panels and workshops will be mostly virtual and, for the first time, will include NYC residents in the conversation.
“The shift in services available from the City during the pandemic created the need for additional programming for residents,” Raskin added. Until last May, the Department of Sanitation was collecting food waste as part of the Curbside Composting brown bin program and through a network of 175 food scrap drop off sites. Residential collection of food scraps was one of the first programs to get suspended during 2020 budget cuts, though Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that it will be restored beginning this fall.
“Now, we have all these residents and businesses who we’ve for years been training and proselytizing, getting them on board with composting, and the programs they had learned to rely on were suddenly not available,” Raskin continued. “We felt that it was really important this year to have programming and resources made available to motivate and inspire residents the same way they had been previously for businesses.”
Topics on the plate for the 2021 Food Waste Fair include feeding more people, eating conscientiously, preventing climate change, saving and making money and being New York’s Strongest (which is the nickname for NYC Sanitation Workers, but also a nod to the City’s recovery). Coupled with this week-long event is the launch of a new Food Waste Toolkit, meant as an alternative to the in-person expo of previous years.
“We’re taking the expo and putting it online into a comprehensive interactive toolkit that will live on for the rest of the year, at least,” the Sanitation Foundation Executive Director continued. “It won’t be this kind of one-day thing that you can only go to if you’re in the New York area, but something where you can log on, identify as a resident or a business owner and then get walked through the steps. We’re mirroring the EPA’s Food Waste Hierarchy, in terms of the best thing you can do is prevent waste.”
The Food Waste Toolkit bridges resources and organizations to assist restaurant owners with tasks such as inventory management and food reuse and recovery. Residents can learn how to prevent food waste at home.
“That’s where we get to bring in our partners like the DSNY program donateNYC, who is sort of a matchmaker between restaurants that have excess food and nonprofits serving their community,” Raskin noted. Not only will users of the toolkit get an accessible instructional manual, but they also will receive access to a database of Sanitation Foundation-approved vendors.
“I think step one was awareness raising, which I think we’ve done a pretty good job over the years, of making it clear that not only are you wasting precious resources, but also there are greenhouse gas emissions associated with food decomposing in a landfill, implications for climate change, etc.” Raskin concluded. “Years one and two of this event, we were really kind of hammering in that message. And now we’ve got people riled up – both business owners and residents – looking for what they can do.”
The 2019 Fair highlighted the creativity of several New York City restaurants. This included the Rhodora Wine Bar on Adelphi Street in which operator Henry Rich committed to avoiding plastics and waste by creating a menu of delectable bar food that eliminated the creation of trash.
The Sanitation Foundation is the nonprofit arm of the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY). Its mission is to facilitate public-private partnerships and partnerships between the DSNY and artists, entrepreneurs, residents, corporations, that all have a shared interest in making NYC a more sustainable place to live.