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The following comprises a Q&A with Elisabeth N. Radow, managing member of Radow Law PLLC and president of Resources For Living, a “Sustainability Action Tank.”
You are a seasoned attorney and professor. How does your work connect to food?
ER: I am a business lawyer, conservation advocate and professor with publications addressing energy and natural resources conservation and climate change. I work with clients and educators to turn sustainability goals into comprehensive action plans. My current focus is reducing food waste because of the ripple effects to a sustainable economy and climate change.
Explain the link between food waste and climate change.
ER: In 2013, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, 21.1 percent of America’s 167 million tons of municipal waste consisted of food. This organic waste decomposes in landfills emitting methane gas which has a global warming potential more than 25 times greater than carbon dioxide. That’s a whopping 35.2 million tons of food that could have been used to feed people and livestock or composted to grow a new cycle of food, if handled differently. All that food waste contains significant resources which are also wasted, such as water, fertilizer, paper products, fossil fuel for growing, transportation and storage, and human labor. Also, current rates of food waste drain potential profitability from food producers and retailers, which is reversible. This food waste/climate change link is so critical America has a national policy to address it.
Can you elaborate?
ER: On Sept. 16, 2015, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the United States’ first-ever national food waste reduction goal of 50 percent by 2030. This announcement in the week before the United Nations General Assembly met to discuss sustainable development practices signaled the urgent need to shift how America produces, sells, uses and discards our food. We are well beyond the point of posturing. Yet, food retailers, producers and consumer product companies can benefit from this call to action by interacting collaboratively with their customer base to achieve this food waste reduction goal while reinforcing customer loyalty and maintaining, if not increasing, profitability. I am an endorser of the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge which provides me with access to current relevant data, policies and practices that enhance my ability to work with stakeholders engaged in achieving the 2030 national food waste reduction goal.
Do you have any “call to action” suggestions for retailers?
ER: Food retailers can make available online and in-store a shopper tip sheet on storing and maximizing freshness of perishables. Install vacuum pack machines on-site for in-store use and sell these machines for home use. Appeal to the demographic of shoppers on a budget by selling perishables, including bruised and non-conforming produce, for a reduced price in a centrally-dedicated section. Instead of discarding food on or before the sell-by date, mark it down and sell it. By destigmatizing the sale of this edible food and educating shoppers that this food is safe to eat, retailers can expand sales and customer base, reduce waste and save on carting fees.
Is there anything you would like to add?
ER: I have a number of workable, creative ideas and solutions designed to reduce waste and feed people instead of landfills. And I’m interested to work with all stakeholders in this effort: food retailers, producers and consumer product companies. I can be reachced at [email protected].