Food Recovery Initiative
Joint Venture’s Food Recovery Initiative supports organizations, businesses, and governments working to make the most of surplus food and to minimize the environmental impacts of food waste. Food recovery is a system whereby food banks and other organizations collect and redistribute surplus food from commercial sources (such as grocery stores, restaurants, and more) to those in need of food assistance – safely, conveniently, and at low or no cost. Food recovery plays a unique role in the food supply chain, bridging the gap between the abundance of nutritious surplus food out of reach to so many, and those who need it most.
The Initiative strengthens the local food recovery ecosystem by spurring funding and innovation in the fight against food waste; propagating waste prevention and recovery strategies; and supporting local government programs to better understand, educate, and regulate the food sector. Our recent report, Making the Most of Surplus Food, lays out recommendations to expand existing intervention strategies and to test new ones, built on a solid foundation of expertise, data, and analysis.
The Initiative coordinates the efforts of jurisdictions, food recovery organizations, and businesses in the fight against food waste through a variety of projects, most recently as part of the local implementation of a new state law –California’s Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction Strategy (SB 1383). SB 1383 creates additional state-wide organics recycling requirements for businesses and consumers and enshrines food recovery into law. SB 1383 sets a statewide goal of recovering 20 percent of edible food currently being disposed of by 2025. It also requires that certain businesses and organizations arrange to recover the maximum amount of edible food possible, and requires that local jurisdictions establish food recovery programs.
Santa Clara County Food Recovery Program
Since July 2020, the Initiative has directed much of its energy and focus towards preparing our community to implement SB 1383’s food recovery mandates. In Santa Clara County, jurisdictions already working together through the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) of the Santa Clara County Recycling and Waste Reduction Commission (RWRC) opted to develop a joint county-wide food recovery program. Building on the work of the pre-existing Santa Clara County Food Recovery Steering Committee and with oversight from multi-stakeholder committees, Joint Venture coordinated the formation of the new Santa Clara County Food Recovery Program, which Joint Venture now manages. This Program fulfills the CalRecycle requirement for all local jurisdictions in the county. This includes program management, education and monitoring of regulated businesses and organizations, the administration of Food Recovery Reporting and recordkeeping, and other programmatic tasks. Jurisdictions maintain responsibility for any necessary enforcement actions.
Santa Clara County Food Recovery Steering Committee
Since 2016, Joint Venture has convened the Santa Clara County Food Recovery Steering Committee – composed of city and county officials, local food recovery and food assistance organizations, zero-waste professionals, waste haulers, and industry representatives. Over the years, the Steering Committee has provided expertise and guidance in a number of areas related to county-wide food waste reduction efforts, and is currently focused on expanding food waste prevention and food recovery capacity in line with the recommendations contained in Making the Most of Surplus Food, as well as serving as an advisory body for the Santa Clara County Food Recovery Program.
Since 2019, Joint Venture has convened the Silicon Valley Food Recovery Council, comprising food recovery organizations operating throughout the Silicon Valley region and the broader Bay Area. The Council is a forum for food recovery organizations to come together to tackle common problems, develop and propagate food recovery best practices, and coordinate strategies for SB 1383 readiness. The Council is currently preparing a communications campaign and developing partnerships for new and innovative food recovery projects.
Making the Most of Surplus Food in Santa Clara County
Building on capacity analyses required for SB 1383, the Food Recovery Initiative authored a report in 2022: Making the Most of Surplus Food in Santa Clara County: a 3-year plan for prioritizing prevention, strengthening food recovery and leveraging new models. This work plan, funded by the RWRC, and leveraging the results of projects separately funded by Lendlease Foundation, Santa Clara County, and the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health, broadens the lens beyond SB 1383 compliance to encompass a more ambitious and collaborative vision for strengthening food recovery and reducing food surpluses. Joint Venture leads the county-wide work to further explore, prioritize and implement the recommendations from this report over the next three years, in partnership with a variety of stakeholders and with progress coordinated through the Food Recovery Steering Committee.
The report identifies opportunities and outlines specific recommendations for expanding food recovery and prevention efforts further. The report estimates that Santa Clara County food recovery organizations collectively recover an impressive 20 million pounds of food each year, ample capacity to address the “Edible Food Disposed” required under SB 1383. At the same time, the report estimates that there may be opportunities to expand prevention and recovery efforts to address roughly double that volume of surplus food.The report's recommendations for expanding capacity relate to four overarching goals – Prioritize Prevention, Collect Necessary Information, Strengthen Food Recovery Capacity, and Adequately Fund Food Recovery – providing pathways to action, suggestions foro effective and efficient resource utilization, and ideas for funding mechanisms to explore and implement.
Santa Clara County Public Health Projects
The County of Santa Clara Public Health Department has funded previous work by the Food Recovery Initiative, including the “Deep Dive” metrics project aimed at gathering more granular operational data from food recovery organizations. We are currently partnering to implement a pilot program that will provide a regular supply of recovered food (including groceries and prepared foods) to affordable housing sites, with the goal of augmenting the quantity, variety and convenience of food assistance available to residents.
To learn more about either of these projects, please visit the Food Recovery Initiative’s Public Health Partnership webpage.
Why focus on surplus food?
One-third or more of all food in the US and globally goes uneaten, and with it all of the natural resources, energy, economic inputs, and human capital that go into its production and distribution. Surplus food that ends up in the landfill wreaks further environmental havoc by releasing methane, a potent climate-warming gas. ReFED estimates that the annual surplus of 80 million tons of food in the US carries a greenhouse gas footprint equivalent to 4% of total US emissions; contributes significantly to deforestation, biodiversity loss, water pollution and water scarcity; and costs some $408 billion or roughly 2% of US GDP. While some amount of surplus food can be beneficial for food system resilience in the face of price or weather shocks, there is broad consensus that current levels of food waste can and should be cut in half.
Statewide in California, CalRecycle estimates that over 1 million tons of potentially donatable food was disposed of in 2018. Locally, Joint Venture estimates that there may be as much as 24,000 tons (or 48 million pounds) of surplus food created by the commercial sector (farms, producers, distributors, retailers and restaurants) each year in Santa Clara County alone, the majority of it composted. About half of this surplus is currently being recovered to feed people in need, thanks to a robust and mature local food recovery sector, led by Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, the local Feeding America affiliate. While this rate of recovery is much higher than the national average of 3 percent, there is plenty of room for improvement.
Even more sobering, people go hungry even as so much surplus food goes to waste. Uneaten food in the US contains more than four times the number of calories needed to feed an estimated 35 million food insecure Americans according to studies reviewed by the US EPA. According to the 2022 Silicon Valley Index, a staggering 12 percent of our local population is food insecure, meaning they lack consistent access to enough food to lead an active, healthy life.
Ensuring that surplus food goes to those in need is a powerful tool in fighting climate change and reducing food insecurity. Food recovery plays a unique and vital role in the food supply chain, by making the most of inevitable surpluses that arise in the commercial food supply chain and providing a supply of nutritious food to food assistance organizations. The vital importance of food waste reduction and food recovery, for our communities and our environment, are now enshrined into California law by SB 1383.
The Program completed the capacity assessment required under SB 1383 Santa Clara County Food Recovery Capacity Planning Assessment for 2022-24, which was accepted in draft form by RWRC TAC on April 14, 2022 and finalized without substantive changes in June 2022. The report benefited from expertise, research assistance, and review from a variety of stakeholders throughout the county, as well as extensive surveys and outreach to all regulated entities. The Assessment concludes that Santa Clara County has ample food recovery capacity to address edible food disposed as required under SB 1383.
A La Carte
Silicon Valley Food Recovery created a mobile food distribution model named A La Carte. An original concept, A La Carte is a fleet of trucks, staffed by trained personnel who gather prepared and packaged food from corporate and university campuses for delivery directly into targeted neighborhoods with high-density populations of people in need. Joint Venture has since completed its role in A La Carte.