Austin City Council Declares 2013 ‘Year of Food Waste Prevention and Recovery’


Chelsea Purgahn

Remedios Avila cleans the compost machine twice a day with wet cardboard. The Division of Housing & Food Service has composted over 250 tons of food waste between September 2011 and September 2012.

Hannah Jane DeCiutiis

Austin residents will see more visible changes to the way food waste is handled after City Council declared 2013 the “Year of Food Waste Prevention and Recovery.”

The resolution passed by the council lays groundwork for establishing food waste protocol in food retail establishments and nonprofit organizations throughout the city. The city manager’s office will oversee participation by other departments in the effort to become a national leader in food waste recovery.

Brandi Clark Burton, founder and chief inspiration officer of Austin EcoNetwork and EcoCampaigns, was the lead author of the resolution. Burton said she and members of the Food Surplus and Salvage Working Group — a group she founded — started conducting research in September 2011.

The group’s research states the city should universally follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, which involves first decreasing the amount of unused food, and then sending usable food to people and animals in need. Inedible food should then be used for industrial purposes such as oil or then sent to composting facilities. The group’s recommendation states that food waste should only go into a landfill after these options have been exhausted.

“I have a lot of goals, and they are different for different audiences,” Burton said. “My hope is that by the end of 2013 that everyone living and/or working in Austin will have come across this conversation about food waste and the food recovery hierarchy and started preventing and redirecting their own food waste and that associated with their businesses too.”

The resolution was co-sponsored by council members Laura Morrison and Mike Martinez. Morrison said she was struck by the staggering amount of food waste in the nation, which includes about 40 percent of all edible food.

“It’s definitely an environmental issue as far as the impacts, but food is also a precious resource, and we need to do better,” Morrison said. “I’m really excited about this. I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for us to raise the bar as a community.”

Robert Kingham, program supervisor in the city’s Health and Human Services Department, said the city has yet to make personnel assignments to oversee food waste reduction. Various city departments will be forming small work groups to work with both restaurants and nonprofit organizations to prevent their food waste.

Hunter Mangrum, environmental specialist for the University’s Division of Housing & Food Service, said DHFS’s current single-stream composting system allowed for over 250 tons of food waste to be composted between September 2011 and September 2012.

“It’s great and it’s a commendable effort,” Mangrum said. “It’s that much that’s not going into a landfill, but it also is kind of a terrifying number to think that that much is essentially waste that has to be dealt with.”

Mangrum said food waste at the University is difficult to halt entirely due to the sheer volume of students DHFS serves on a regular basis, but UT intends to continue adhering to the city’s standards.

“Some of it can be attributed to taking too much, especially at our all-you-care-to-eat locations, and then some of it can be accredited it to things in the kitchens such as over-preparation and over-ordering,” Mangrum said. “But I think really it’s just because of the large scale that we operate on. In some form or fashion we’re always going to have high numbers, but even with our high volume we are committed to reducing our food waste.”

Printed on Tuesday, January 15th, 2013 as: City reuses food waste