Wasting food is a major problem for our environment, economy, and communities, especially when so many families are food insecure. CET acts as a catalyst nationwide to accelerate the development of a vibrant marketplace aimed at diverting wasted food from the commercial and institutional sectors. In Rhode Island, CET works directly with businesses to reduce, donate, and compost wasted food. Over the last year, CET has been providing even more wasted food assistance with support from 11th Hour Racing’s grant program, funded by the Schmidt Family Foundation. The grant is part of Healthy Soils Healthy Seas Rhode Island (HSHSRI), a composting program that aims to inspire long-lasting, environmentally responsible behavior necessary to improve ocean health. Other collaborators include Clean Ocean Access (COA), the Compost Plant, and Black Earth Compost. 

40% of food in the USA goes uneaten (NRDC), and in Rhode Island, food accounts for 35% of all waste that ends up in landfills. CET hopes to create a streamlined marketplace in Rhode Island where businesses can work collaboratively to prevent, donate, and divert wasted food. 

Through community outreach, social media, and events, CET reached over 300 stakeholders and worked directly with nearly a dozen Rhode Island businessesopens PDF file to reduce wasted food. This work involved maximizing wasted food reduction, recovery, and diversion, and evaluating current recycling practices. In collaboration with COA and Zero Waste Providence (ZWP), CET held three meetings for restaurants and food-permitted businesses, with the aim of highlighting success stories from other businesses that had implemented prevention, donation, and composting programs.

Midtown Oyster Bar and Surf Club

As a result of these meetings, direct outreach, and partner referrals, several restaurants throughout Rhode Island sought CET’s assistance in reducing their food waste. Midtown Oyster Bar and Surf Club, located in Newport, already built menus that incorporated excess ingredients and donated surplus edible food. With CET’s help, the restaurant also established a strategy to recycle their food scraps and implemented dual-language (English and Spanish) training materials and signage. The result of their collective efforts was 34 tons of food scraps diverted from the landfill in one year.

Diego’s Middletown

Diego’s Middletown sought collaborations with Rhode Island organizations and programs to further their sustainable practices as well. In addition to cross-utilizing ingredients and focusing on portion control, the business built a relationship with the MLK Community Center during the COVID-19 shutdowns, to whom they donate surplus edible food. For any food scraps they cannot otherwise utilize, Diego’s Middletown composts with collection services from the Compost Plant, a collaboration facilitated by HSHSRI.

Birchwood Middle School

Birchwood Middle School, located in North Providence, worked closely with CET and the Rhode Island Schools Recycling Club to establish a variety of sustainability programs. These include a project-based learning program called “Get Food Smart, RI,” a school-wide food scraps collection program, and a new greenhouse for the school’s vegetable garden. Working with Bootstrap Compost—another key player in Rhode Island’s food waste reduction initiative—Birchwood was able to process extra organic materials that they did not have the capacity to compost on-site.

Atlantic Capes Fisheries

Several other businesses joined waste-reduction programs throughout Rhode Island, including Atlantic Capes Fisheries (AFC) and Barrington Farm School. ACF approached CET for innovative solutions for diverting from the landfill the over 7,000 tons of clamshells they produced that year. In addition to composting, they explored using clamshells in fertilizer, driveways, reef and oyster bed rejuvenation, and more.

Barrington Farm School

Barrington Farm School sought to expand their composting efforts so they could take on food scraps generated by the local community. CET consulted with the school on increasing handling efficiencies and developing a vermicomposting system, in which worms are used to process food scraps into a dense, nutrient-rich soil amendment. Barrington Farm School uses this soil to fertilize their own gardens, from which they donate about 30% of their yield to a local food pantry.

Aquidneck Island Businesses

HSHSRI, with CET’s assistance, also helped Aquidneck Island businesses and institutions adopt reduction and diversion practices, resulting in roughly 40 tons of food waste being diverted from landfills and an equivalent of over 500 meals of rescued food. Part of HSHSRI’s work is to teach the public about the connection between wasted food and shorelines. Compost is a powerful tool for preserving shorelines, as it can be used as a soil amendment for shoreline access erosion control. Utilizing compost as a soil amendment on our shorelines can encourage native vegetation and improve ecosystem services, ultimately reducing erosion. 

Despite challenges, such as the pandemic, CET and Rhode Island businesses and institutions made a lasting impact on reducing the state’s commercial food waste. Local businesses continue to pursue partnerships with composting facilities, food donation programs, and other innovative waste reduction solutions. CET continues to support and facilitate these relationships. To learn more about reducing wasted food, visit wastedfood.cetonline.org.