How 5 Nonprofits Are Tackling Food Waste on a Macro Level

These nonprofits are taking food destined for the landfill and giving it to people in need. Here's how you can support their efforts.

Three photos of people working to reduce food waste

Simply Recipes / StudioNouveau / Saving Grace / Lori Cannava

Most of the conversation around tackling food waste is about what the individual can do at home. And while shopping smart, eating leftovers, and composting are all important, food waste is also something that needs to be addressed on a larger scale to make a real impact. Luckily, there are hard-working nonprofits across the country rescuing fresh food by the truckload. Using a network of staff and volunteers, these organizations are getting food to people in need, diverting it from the landfill. They all share a singular drive: to reduce food waste and feed their hungry neighbors, all in one go. Here are five of those nonprofits that you should know and support.

  • Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue

    Two people holding large fruits in a warehouse

    Simply Recipes / Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue

    Since 2013, Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue has grown from a single truck to rescuing and delivering over 1.6 million pounds of food in 2021 alone. The Omaha-based nonprofit emerged to fill a need: there was no real system in place for rescuing excess food in the area, and one in six Douglas county residents is food insecure. “We don’t have a food production problem as much as an equitable food distribution problem,” says Beth Ostdiek Smith, CEO and founder of Saving Grace. “We believe in feeding bellies, not landfills.”

    The organization uses its fleet of refrigerated trucks to rescue perishable food from over 70 food vendors in the area. Vendors include everything from grocery stores to warehouses to caterers, with the food going directly from point A to point B without a stop in a warehouse, ensuring it is as fresh as possible when it reaches partner agencies. 

    The key to Saving Grace’s distribution system is their dedicated truck drivers. “Our drivers are our front-line ambassadors, and they ensure businesses know what types of food can be safely donated and how they need to be packaged and labeled. They match the food they pick up to the specific needs of each nonprofit agency," says Smith. 

    “We also are looking to grow a ‘no wasted food’ culture where more people and businesses are aware of the impact of wasting food that could feed people in need and of the effect food rotting in our landfills has on our environment,” says Smith.

    How to Support: You can support Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue in a number of different ways, including through financial donation and food donation.

  • Food Recovery Network

    People holding a sign that says "Food Recovery Network"

    Simply Recipes / Food Recovery Network

    Food Recovery Network began in 2011 when a group of students at the University of Maryland noticed their school’s dining hall throwing out excess food at the end of the night. From there, the network has grown by leaps and bounds, with over 200 campus chapters in 46 states.

    “Our goal is to change the paradigm of how we interact with food, so that food recovery programs are the norm instead of the exception,” says Regina Anderson, Executive Director of Food Recovery Network. And they see college campuses as the perfect place to start. There are about 5,400 higher education institutions in the U.S., and most of them are large purchasers and providers of food, with plenty of opportunities for food waste along the way. 

    College is also the perfect time to get people engaged around tackling food waste. This academic year alone, FRN has diverted over two million pounds of produce from landfills. FRN has also partnered with The Farmlink Project, a program that pays farmers a living wage to harvest and transport food that would otherwise go to waste. “The Farmlink partnership helped us to dramatically increase how much food we were recovering,” says Anderson.

    How to Support: You can support Food Recovery Network by donating or by starting a new chapter at your university if you're a student.

  • City Harvest

    Two people from City Harvest holding fruit

    Simply Recipes / Lori Cannava

    Founded in 1982, City Harvest is New York City’s largest food rescue organization, rescuing and delivering over a billion (with a B!) pounds of food to date. That food has gone to nearly 400 food pantries and equaled over 833 million meals for New Yorkers in need. The nonprofit is driven by a core philosophy: That no New Yorker should go hungry. “We believe that all New Yorkers deserve equitable access to nutritious, affordable food,” says Jerome Nathaniel, Director of Policy and Government Relations at City Harvest. 

    City Harvest sources food that would otherwise go to waste from a wide variety of sources, including grocers, farms, manufacturers, restaurants, green markets, and more. Their fleet of trucks picks up and delivers the food all over NYC to soup kitchens and food pantries as well as their nine Mobile Markets. These free markets are located in high-need neighborhoods, where fresh produce and nutritious shelf-stable food are needed most.

    To meet growing demand, the organization is moving their food rescue and distribution operations to a 150,000-square foot space in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, which will enable them to rescue and distribute twice as much food. “This year, we will rescue and deliver 111 million pounds of food. That is far more food than City Harvest has ever planned to rescue and deliver in a single year in our nearly four-decade history,” says Nathaniel.

    How to Support: Support City Harvest through financial donation, volunteering, food donation, and by fundraising.

  • Food Forward

    Two people moving boxes with a forklift

    Simply Recipes / Food Forward

    Based in Los Angeles County, Food Forward takes a multi-pronged approach to addressing food waste that is perfectly tuned to the region. The nonprofit rescues perishable food by the truckload from the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce District and moves it to their Produce Pit Stop in Bell, California. The warehouse has cold storage and loading docks, allowing Food Forward to better serve their agency partners, providing them with a wide variety of produce.

    The second prong is their farmers market recovery, utilizing the robust markets in the area filled with locally-grown produce. Volunteers provide farm stands with boxes, allowing them to directly donate any fruits and vegetables at the end of the day that would otherwise go to waste. The final piece of the Food Forward puzzle is the backyard harvest program, which connects volunteers with local homeowners. Southern California is full of bountiful fruit trees, from oranges to avocados to grapefruit, and volunteers rescue this produce and deliver it directly to Food Forward’s 344 partner agencies. 

    “We use a high impact approach coupled with high civic engagement: our Wholesale Recovery Program run by staff recovers and distributes an average of over 250,000 pounds of fresh produce every day, while last year our volunteer-powered Backyard Harvest Program held over 1,100 events,” says founder and CEO Rick Nahmias. “Combined, these really move the needle on preventing food waste, helping feed the food insecure folks of the region, and engaging volunteers passionate about both topics.” To date, Food Forward has rescued and distributed 225 million pounds of food, equivalent to 63,000 metric tons of CO2.

    How to Support: You can support Food Forward through financial donation, volunteering, and by donating food.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • Lovin’ Spoonfuls

    Person packing up a truck

    Simply Recipes / Studio Nouveau

    As the largest food rescue agency in New England, Lovin’ Spoonfuls covers a lot of ground. The organization serves 50 cities and towns in Massachusetts, rescuing excess food from over 70 vendors and distributing to 160 nonprofit partners. These partners feed over 38,000 people a week using food that is no longer saleable, but still perfectly good to eat. “At Spoonfuls, we believe that healthy food is a basic human right and that hunger isn’t a problem of supply. It’s a problem of access and distribution,” says Ashley Stanley, Founder and Executive Director of Lovin’ Spoonfuls.

    The organization uses refrigerated trucks to deliver perishable food along eight different routes across the state. All food is picked up and delivered on the same day, ensuring that pantries, meal programs, shelters, senior centers, and other hunger relief programs get the food they need fast. Lovin’ Spoonfuls focuses on fresh food like produce, dairy, and lean proteins. “These are the items that are most often wasted and they’re also the ones that, because they’re usually the most expensive, are the least accessible for people facing food insecurity,” says Stanley.

    Since its founding in 2010, Lovin’ Spoonful has grown immensely, rescuing four million pounds of fresh food in 2021 alone. Keeping this much food out of landfills has the equivalent environmental effect of keeping 1,226 cars off the road for a whole year. In 2022, they plan to add two new routes to their distribution network covering Worcester and further reaching Metrowest.

    How to Support: You can support Lovin' Spoonfuls by making a financial donation, fundraising, and volunteering.