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Iowa City officials test food waste initiatives

BY GRACE PATERAS | NOVEMBER 21, 2014 5:00 AM

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When it comes to recycling programs, an Iowa City organization has been recognized by a government agency for exceeding in initiatives to better the environment and overall well-being of the community.

Most recently, the Environmental Protection Agency recognized government officials from the Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Division for participating in an EPA food waste reduction pilot program.

EPA’s Midwest representative Gayle Hubert said Iowa City already had established sustainability programs, and officials were more than willing to participate in the program “Food: Too Good To Waste.”

Jane Wilch, Iowa City recycling projects assistant who led the pilot program in Iowa City, said the initiative’s main purpose is to get people familiar with the dangers of wasting food and to reduce food waste in Iowa City households.

“By reducing the amount of food waste, you’re saving money because you didn’t eat what you bought,” she said. “Compost your food, and don’t throw it in the trash.”

Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, throw away about 25 percent of the food they purchase. Officials at the EPA are trying to reduce that number and create a cleaner and more efficient environment.

“The awareness [of hazards of food waste] will help them build their recycling rates and increase knowledge about recycling habits,” Hubert said. “Resident awareness will get across the message that they can do things in the home by not making food waste in the first place.”

Rhode Island, Colorado, Vermont, and Washington were a few of the states that participated in the program.

After the six-week studies were over, city officials sent their results to EPA. From there, EPA officials will evaluate the data and come to conclusions. The program will be used for officials to learn about the cities’ food-waste programs.

“We’ll look into participants’ income, how many people live in the house, and ages of participants,” Hubert said. “We’ll be able to conclude why things are getting thrown away and what we need to do to get people to understand the problem, and work to reduce the wasted food in houses.”

Iowa City was the first city in the Midwest to participate in the pilot program.

Officials gave 50 participants tools to evaluate their daily food waste by weighing and writing the amount down in a toolkit. Then, they were asked to throw out their trash in a separate bin and put food waste in a different container.

Ashley Zanolli, an environmental engineer at the EPA and a planner of the “Food: Too Good To Waste” program across the nation, said Iowa City has been one of the best projects she has seen since initiatives began in 2012.

“In the U.S., the issue of wasted food hasn’t been on the radar,” Zanolli said. “[Getting the message across] is about one-on-one direct interaction between the community.”

One important reason officials are concerned with food waste is the wasted energy that comes with it. Gas for transportation of food, energy of refrigeration use, grocery-store efforts, and workers involved are all wasted when food is thrown away, Hubert said.

Hubert suggests community businesses should become more aware of food-waste problems.

“Grocery stores can start looking at their purchasing so they’re not over-buying food,” she said. “They can start selling blemished food for less — that way, they’re not throwing it out.”


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