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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Atlanta's Focus on Food Waste Reduction

With the 2009 Zero Waste Zones launch, Atlanta stepped to the helm as a national leader in food waste reduction initiatives.  The early emphasis was diversion of food residuals from the landfill to composting operations.  

Elizabeth Royte
As they focused on the volume of food diverted from the landfill, the ZWZ Participants found unique ways to REDUCE food waste, thus reducing food costs. With a strong focus on the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, Participants discovered additional food generated in their operations for donation to local organizations feeding the hungry population.

Renowned nature | science writer Elizabeth Royte is passionate about respectful treatment of food including waste reduction, delivering unsalable yet delicious food to the hungry population, and composting of the no longer edible residuals.  As part of her research on food waste reduction, Elizabeth visited Atlanta to learn about the diverse and innovative systems in place.

Home of the ZWZ, Elemental Impact hosted Elizabeth's Atlanta visit and orchestrated a series of interviews with a wide range of individuals who spearhead the City's leadership role.  It was thrilling to hear tales of how these individuals | organizations commit themselves to a cause that benefits ALL concerned, including the corporate bottom line.

Patrick Cuccaro, Affairs to Remember general manager and ZWZ champion, articulated the underlying commitment with perfection:  Food waste reduction and donation programs are a unique opportunity where one's spiritual convictions align with corporate responsibility.  Note the preceding is a paraphrase of Patrick's comment.

Robby Astrove
Beginning with grass roots impact, Elizabeth met with local maverick Robby Astrove of Concrete Jungle, one his many important endeavors.  Under Concrete Jungle's direction volunteers harvest fruit from previously untended trees around the Atlanta metro area.    

Once cleaned and inspected, the fruit is donated to local shelters as a treat to those who usually only eat second-hand food.  Besides the nutritional value, the fruit hand-picked for these individuals is a step towards restoring dignity, the basis for rebuilding stolen lives.  The ZWA Blog post, The Many Faces of Zero Waste, gives an overview of Concrete Jungle's impressive urban foraging mission.

Ecco Chefs Craig Richards &
Casey Wise, Ecco's garden stewards
Fifth Group partner Steve Simon was next on the interview itinerary.  Ecco's rooftop garden was the perfect spot to learn the details of how Steve's actions are shifting the nation's second-largest private sector industry's standard practices. In recent restaurant lease negotiations, Steve insisted food waste collection for composting was included in the flagship office building lease provisions.

Farmer D & Elizabeth in
garden area behind his store
The following day the interview marathon continued with Farmer D (aka Daron Joffe). Using his extensive composting expertise, Farmer D partners with Whole Foods on a composting program that closes the loop for food waste generated at metro Atlanta stores.  In addition to his Farmer D Organic Compost brand, Farmer D owns a cool organic gardening center, a haven for the home gardener.

As a volunteer, Myron Smith coordinates Second Helping's food donation and collection program.  A quiet, astute business man, Myron determined where quality food was slipping through current systems and ending up in landfills or compost windrows, rather than hungry bellies. Local farmers markets were a ripe venue.  At market close, farmers generally have a portion of their bounty unsold that they are happy to donate to Second Helpings.

Myron & Elizabeth by Second
Helpings Truck 
Myron developed a system where a Second Helpings volunteer arrives at market close to collect the produce in plastic bins and delivers the fresh, seasonal food to a nearby shelter, usually no more than 20 minutes from the market location. Many farmers now bring produce not meeting their specifications, yet delicious, to markets for donation.  In the past this food stayed on the farm for hog feed or the compost pile.

It takes ingenuity and tenacity to find the hidden food within current programs and determine how to collect and deliver the food in an effective, safe manner.  By finding shelters located close to markets, Myron's system mirrors a trip to the grocery store where the store is the market and the home is a shelter.  Food quality and safety is maintained without coolers or refrigeration.

Chef Ahmad, Patrick, Elizabeth &
Ei founder Holly Elmore
photo courtesy of ATR
Next in the interview series was an amazing lunch at Affairs to Remember locally sourced and prepared by Executive Chef Ahmad Nourzad. Beyond composting their food waste, ATR made impressive strides in reducing food waste.  Under Patrick's direction, the sales department shifted contract provisions to include chef's selection of fresh, seasonal items.  The chef's selection provision gives the flexibility to serve produce at its peak and reduces waste by purchasing for combined events.

Chef Ahmad keeps an eagle eye on hidden waste in the ATR kitchen.  A prime example is the discovery that a pint of cream remains in a case of poured, cold quart containers.  If the poured case sets out for a few minutes, the remaining cream loosens from the container side and easily pours.  Over the past year, the equivalent cream savings is approximately five gallons. It is amazing to realize the waste reduction possible by simple, acute observation.  

GWCC food residuals
awaiting transport for composting
The final interview was with the Georgia World Congress Center Team including facility foodservice operator Levy Restaurants.  As the host to the 2009 ZWZ Launch Press Conference, the GWCC is a veteran zero waste advocate committed to continual refinement in their recycling and food waste practices.  The ZWA Blog post, GWWC Hits Recycling Stride, gives an overview of impressive stats from several large conventions.

Completely polystyrene-free, the GWCC first replaced  polystyrene foodservice ware in the employee cafeteria with compostable products.  Next the GWCC upgraded the cafeteria to reusable plates and flatware eliminating a significant amount of product leaving the campus for composting.  To understand the integrity of a facility's sustainability commitment, learn their practices at behind-the-scene operations such as the employee cafeteria.  Kudos to GWCC | Levy Restaurants for your sustainability integrity!

Elizabeth's whirlwind two-day Atlanta visit was an excellent opportunity to highlight the many dimensions of the City's food waste reduction efforts.  For pictorial details on the interview marathon, see the Ei FB album, 06-12 Elizabeth Royte ATL Visit.

Remember there is not a food shortage dilemma; the reason so many go hungry is due to waste and distribution | infrastructure challenges. Atlanta's pioneers are making tremendous strides to creating a reality where abundant, healthy food is available to the population spectrum.


  1. What a great opportunity to meet Elizabeth...thanks for arranging it, Holly!

    1. You are most welcome - it was thrilling two days for me! Boy, you are FAST. Later today you get my formal post notice with request to share in your cyberspace network. Right now I am posting it all over LinkedIN. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I really enjoyed this piece. I will share it everywhere I can. These stories about the great work Atlantans are doing are not shared often enough. Thank you Holly for your continued hard work.

    1. Thank you Jessica! ... you were there in the VERY beginning during those Green Foodservice Alliance days!