OPINION: Food waste prevention is possible in every Alaska community

In this first week of April, the Alaska Food Policy Council’s Food Waste Working Group invites you to celebrate Food Waste Prevention Week with us. In 2018, California had the first Food Waste Prevention Week campaign. Florida thought that was a good idea and hosted their campaign in 2021, which ripened into a full-on national movement in 2023. There are over 700 partner organizations on the Food Waste Prevention Week website with big names from universities, anti-hunger nonprofits, State environmental departments, and circular-economy entrepreneurs. You better believe there are a lot of free webinars. There’s also a social media campaign that educates on individual behavior changes, like making an “Eat This Now” section of your fridge, and learning how to cook parts of fruits or veggies that you’re used to throwing away.

I must admit, I prickled at first at the idea that the solution to food waste in the U.S. is a matter of individual behavior changes. It is such a colossal, complicated problem. Then again, I believe in collective impact and the need to start somewhere. As a co-chair of the Alaska Food Policy Council’s Food Waste Working Group, I’ve found that the individuals who take that to heart — collective impact and starting somewhere — do make a huge difference.

The Alaska Food Policy Council’s Food Waste Working Group is a statewide, grassroots group of advocates that meets every month over Zoom. Over the past five years, we’ve learned a lot about how to talk about food waste. It’s a tricky topic. Some people come to the food waste conversation because they want to know about getting expired food from the grocery store to the food pantry; others want to talk about options for community composting. In Alaska, the topic of food waste can bring up fish bycatch in one conversation and bypass mail in the next.

The AFPC Food Waste Working Group learned to frame our conversations using the EPA’s Wasted Food Scale, which illustrates that the solutions to food waste exist along a continuum. The EPA’s Scale starts by reducing food waste at its source or by donating food waste for the benefit of other people. If those options are no longer available, then there are other activities to choose from: feeding food waste to animals, composting, or simply applying food waste back to agricultural land. All of these are alternatives to putting food waste in the landfill — the place where food is resoundingly and completely wasted. The Food Waste Working Group proudly incorporates this full spectrum of food recovery into our monthly conversations.

And how rich our monthly conversations really are! The members and visitors in AFPC’s Food Waste Working Group share knowledge and success stories from all over Alaska. We’ve learned about sandwich shops with shelter donation programs and hotels investing in composting technology. We know that urban centers are thrumming with redistribution networks, bringing food from grocery stores to food banks and food pantries. It seems that every weekend in the spring and summer, there’s someone teaching a composting class somewhere in Alaska. Community-led food waste collection and composting programs are popping up around the State. Hospitals, schools, gardens and farms of all makes and models are becoming active partners in these emerging networks.

As keepers of this collective knowledge, the AFPC Food Waste Working Group is working towards a way to keep this information and inspiration flowing. Although we sometimes feel discouraged by the vast data gaps in quantifying both the problem of food waste and the solutions to food recovery in Alaska, we know there’s a lot to celebrate. Last year, we launched a low-tech Alaska Food Recovery Dashboard project that we hope will mature over time into an interactive, open-source archive of food recovery efforts across Alaska.

For now, if you’ve ever wondered if there’s food recovery happening in your community or in a community near you or in a community like yours, the answer is “yes.” This week, if you’d like to join us in celebrating Food Waste Prevention Week, then make sure you eat your leftovers and ask a friend if they know anything about food recovery in your community. If you don’t know who to ask, well, we’re a friendly bunch.


Claire Estelle Lubke is the co-chair of Alaska Food Policy Council’s Food Waste Working Group. She studied biology at UAA and freelances as a food and science writer.

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