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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 our neighbors in need – 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.

By supporting food recovery, we are saving food, feeding people and fighting climate change.

What are we doing?

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), which took effect January 1, 2022, effects state-wide organics recycling requirements for businesses and consumers and enshrines food recovery into law, with the requirement that by 2025, California recover 20 percent of edible food being disposed of in 2022 and divert that food to people in need. To achieve this statewide goal, SB 1383’s regulations require that certain businesses and organizations arrange to recover the maximum amount of edible food possible.

Santa Clara County Food Recovery Program

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Starting in July of 2020, the Initiative has directed much of its energy and focus on preparing our community to implement the food recovery portions of SB 1383 which took effect on January 1, 2022. SB 1383 requires that each jurisdiction in California establish a food recovery program. 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) decided to explore the possibility of a county-wide program. Building on the work of the pre-existing Santa Clara County Food Recovery Steering Committee and with oversight from subcommittees with membership from a variety of stakeholders, Joint Venture has scoped and implemented all aspects of the newly formed Santa Clara County Food Recovery Program (the Program), fulfilling the CalRecycle requirement for all local jurisdictions in regard to creating an edible food recovery program. 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

Joint Venture has convened the Santa Clara County Food Recovery Steering Committee – composed of city and county officials, zero-waste professionals, nonprofits, corporate partners, and citizens focused on sourcing and recovering prepared food – since 2016. Thanks to recent refunding, this committee expanded to include haulers, food generators, and others involved in efficiently utilizing surplus food in Santa Clara County. Subcommittees focus on SB 1383 compliance. The Steering Committee will coordinate efforts and oversee progress related to the recommendations contained in the Making the Most report.

Silicon Valley Food Recovery Council

Funded through the generosity of Wells Fargo and Santa Clara County Public Health, Joint Venture has been able to successfully leverage existing relationships to convene a council focused on maximizing food recovery in Silicon Valley. This council has also benefited from Joint Venture’s leadership of the Santa Clara County Food Recovery Program, and associated trainings 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

Recognizing that the capacity required under the law is limited in scope, and does not account for all potential sources of surplus food, the Food Recovery Initiative authored a report: 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 was funded by both the RWRC and Santa Clara County, and broadens the lens beyond SB 1383 compliance by jurisdictions to a more collaborative, county-wide approach to strengthening food recovery and reducing food surpluses. Joint Venture was also able to leverage the results from projects separately funded by the Lendlease Foundation and the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health to augment the findings and recommendations.

The report identifies opportunities and outlines specific recommendations for expanding food recovery and prevention efforts further, finding that as much as 24,046 tons of surplus food may exist in the county from all sources, beyond the Edible Food Disposed from Tier 1 and Tier 2 generators needing to comply with SB 1383. The report's recommendations are listed in four overarching goals – Prioritize Prevention, Collect Necessary Information, Strengthen Food Recovery Capacity, and Adequately Fund Food Recovery – with a pathway to action, a roadmap to effective and efficient resource utilization, and a list of funding mechanisms to explore and implement. Joint Venture will focus on working with FRO partners and other stakeholders to further explore, prioritize and implement the recommendations from this report over the next three years, with progress coordinated through Joint Venture’s Food Recovery Steering Committee. Joint Venture has already conducted initial research into the feasibility of the recommendations related to tax incentives, grants, and the viability of new food recovery solutions in the county.

‘Deep Dive’ with Santa Clara County Public Health

The Santa Clara County Department of Public Health provided funding to collect a number of metrics related to food recovery, as the County begins to implement SB 1383. The “Deep Dive” is one specific metrics project aimed at gathering more granular operational data from food recovery organizations regarding their sources and uses of food, how much food ends up going to waste and why, and the needs of the clientele served. Participants were recruited via an open call to food recovery organizations in the county, with the express goal of recruiting organizations of varying sizes, operations and geographic locations. We are grateful to the participating organizations for signing on to collect the detailed data, via survey tools, over a 13-week period during the spring of 2022. Participants received a stipend, scaled to the number of weeks they were able to participate.

The Making the Most report features results from this project, with implications for food recovery and capacity-building.

Why are we doing it?

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 greenhouse gas that’s about 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. 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.

Ensuring that surplus food goes to those in need is a powerful tool in fighting climate change and reducing food insecurity.

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. During the pandemic, food insecurity figures jumped even more dramatically, with food insecurity rates estimated to be as high as 31 percent across California among Black and Latino households. Second Harvest of Silicon Valley increased its food distribution volume by over 100% since the pandemic began, according to a research brief published by Joint Venture’s Institute for Regional Studies with support from the Food Recovery Initiative. Food distribution to at-need populations have increased across Silicon Valley, for nearly all programs: participation in CalFresh has increased by 25% and programs serving seniors (Meals on Wheels and Great Plates Delivered) were up by over 350%. Post-pandemic, structural supply chain challenges and food price inflation continue to keep food out of reach for too many.

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.

What are the latest developments?

Santa Clara County Public Health Partnership continues

The Santa Clara County Public Health has approved additional funding starting in October of 2022, for Joint Venture to lead a pilot project to expand food recovery capacity in innovative ways by bringing recovered food directly to affordable housing facilities. The project, in partnership with affordable housing facilities and food recovery organizations, takes aim at three challenges in the current food recovery landscape. First, the pilot will address the logistical challenges some people face in getting food at typical distribution locations, including transportation and time barriers. A few statements from clients in our Deep Dive data collection confirm this challenge: “I work two jobs so I don't have too much time to wait.” and “I don't always have time to stop and wait in line even if it's only for a few minutes.” Second, the pilot will address logistical challenges on the procurement side – primarily that businesses often have surplus food available at times when food recovery organizations have closed for the day. For example, a restaurant may want to donate food at the end of a dinner shift. Finally, the pilot will seek to increase the transparency regarding capacity to receive and store recovered food. Typically, a food recovery service picking up food from businesses will need to call a nonprofit to see if they can accept a potential donation. This project will pilot new technology aimed to communicate availability of space in the refrigeration units without the need to communicate with the location, or be able to reach anyone by phone. This pilot will make surplus food available to low income people at their place of residence, and make it easier for food recovery services to take place outside of normal business hours, with fewer communications hurdles.

Completed Projects

Capacity Assessment - Completed

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. The report uses a range of national factors and local factors to develop the most accurate estimates of the expected supply of Edible Food Disposed under the new law, tailored to the composition and specific conditions in Santa Clara County, and the existing and planned capacity to recover it among FROs/FRSs. The Program provided the capacity data required by CalRecycle during July, prior to the reporting deadline of 8/1/22.

A La Carte - Completed

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.

Learn more

Who's involved?

Supported by Joint Venture board members Eric Houser and John A. Sobrato, in 2016 Joint Venture partnered with Santa Clara County to fund and develop a food recovery system for Silicon Valley. This was just the beginning of what has become a much broader response to regional food recovery. The current subcommittees and Steering Committee include representatives from the following:

  • Republic Services
  • California Restaurant Association
  • Stanford Healthcare
  • Martha’s Kitchen
  • Second Harvest of Silicon Valley
  • Santa Clara County Environmental Health, Recycling and Waste Reduction, and Social Services Agency
  • Private citizens
  • Zero Waste Professionals
  • Jurisdictions

Staff members involved include Executive Director Robin Franz Martin, Associate Director Susan Miller-Davis, Program Manager Ciara Low, and Outreach Fellow Manpreet Chandok.

Where do I find out more?

To learn more about the Silicon Valley Food Recovery Initiative, please contact:

Robin Franz Martin
Executive Director

Food Recovery Initiative

Joint Venture’s Food Recovery Initiative helps to make nutritious surplus food safely and conveniently available to our neighbors who need it most, while minimizing the environmental impacts of wasted food. The Initiative strengthens the local food recovery ecosystem by spurring funding and innovation; propagating food waste prevention and recovery strategies; and supporting government programs focused on the food sector. By convening the Food Recovery Council and Steering Committee and managing the Santa Clara County Food Recovery Program, the initiative amplifies the efforts of food recovery organizations, local jurisdictions, and businesses in the fight against food waste. 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.

Food Recovery Publications: