Building the Case to Donate Your Company's Surplus Food


Few readers will be surprised to know that the vast majority of communities in the United States suffer from internal disparities in access to food. And fewer still will put to question that our country has a food waste problem.

The numbers at face value may still be alarming: every year, 40% and 160 billion pounds of food in the United States is wasted. Meanwhile 14% of families will experience food insecurity, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines as “difficulty providing enough food for all family members due to a lack of resources” at some point during the year. The consequences of this waste are further reaching than just the consumer. Production losses, agricultural and waste management labor, water and energy used to produce those goods all create additional, offshoot waste that is harder to quantify and has likely caused the problem to be grossly underestimated. Once out of the consumer supply chain food is discarded in landfills, where it contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.

A new three-city Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) study – including New York, Nashville and Denver – found that the largest contributing industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) sectors to food waste are restaurants and caterers. These sectors generate roughly 42-50% of food wasted by ICIs studied in this report.

How can your business help?

We believe these numbers represent an opportunity for companies with regular catering contracts to make a large and lasting impact on food waste in their cities. The best way to do this is to reduce the volume of excess food your company generates in the first place. By tackling the problem at its source, you can have the greatest impact on downstream effects of waste on the market and the environment. Great ways to do this are to

1) implement reduction habits in the office (think larger compost bins and smaller trash cans)

2) conduct a waste audit to track the days or weeks of the year when catered food is most likely to be thrown away.

On a smaller scale, if you happen to receive catered meals at your work or when attending events, RSVP with an accurate projection of your attendance. This helps caterers and planning teams calculate meal counts for the correct number of people, which in turn, reduces waste.

Another effective approach to managing your company’s surplus food is by donating it to food banks, soup kitchens and shelters nearby. This can be executed right away and doesn’t require a waste management overhaul to get you started. Large-scale businesses like Daily Table, which uses excess food from a range of sources to provide healthy and affordable meals to low-income families, as well as smaller-scale contributions, are reminders of the enormous impact regular donations can have on the health of a community. Importantly, corporate donors are protected under the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act when donations are made in good faith. The knock-on benefits to the community could also be substantial, freeing up funds to government-funded programs to reallocate resources and raising the overall quality of food distributed throughout the community for better nutrition and health.   

Positive internal impact

The benefits to communities and donors alike are, in this case, mutually inclusive. From a purely fiscal standpoint, reducing the amount of waste your company produces will not only save money spent on the food itself, but on waste management and disposal fees as well. Ever easier to roll out with intermediaries like Replate, food donations also turn out to be a no-brainer. The federal government provides tax deductions to donors under IRC Section 170, and as of 2015 businesses may be eligible for an further enhanced tax break depending on the need level of the recipient and quality of food donated. (Read here about how tax incentives work for Replate donors)

An unexpected advantage of food donations is the positive effect it can have on the internal culture of the business. Research, including the 2014 Millennial Impact Report, has established strong links between corporate social responsibility and employee satisfaction and retention. 2017 research by Deloitte further found that creating a culture of volunteerism in the workplace boosts morale, productivity and brand perception. Prior research into social influence across many sectors, including charitable giving, lends further evidence to support the idea that individuals who are exposed to these practices in the workplace are more likely to adopt those habits in their day-to-day.

If your company is considering food waste reduction strategies, now is a great time to start implementing them. Senate Bill No. 1383, a law that established methane emissions reductions targets in California, aims to achieve a 50% reduction in the level of statewide disposal of organic waste by 2020. One of the key components of this law is an additional target that 20% of currently disposed edible food be recovered for human consumption by 2025. For businesses without an established waste reduction infrastructure, Replate provides food recovery services and consulting expertise to establish a progressive and sustainable strategy tailored to your company’s needs.

Replate is excited to develop partnerships with local businesses and recipients to tackle these issues from all sides, moving towards a cleaner world and healthier communities in the process.