Reduce Food Waste

B'nai Jeshurun, a congregation in New York City, fulfilled one of their Seal projects by starting a community composting program and encouraging their members to compost.

Americans waste about 70 billion pounds of food each year. Astoundingly, about 25% to 40% of food grown, processed, and transported will never be consumed. This wastes money and resources, contributes to hunger in the U.S. and around the globe, and is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Rotting food is particularly bad for the environment because it releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the atmosphere.

Reducing waste has long been a part of Jewish tradition. Building off the major Biblical prohibition of “bal tashchit” (not wasting), the great Medieval scholar Maimonides wrote that one is forbidden to “smash household goods, tear clothes, demolish a building, stop up a spring, or destroy articles of food” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 6:10.)

Both families and organizations can start reducing waste using the Food: Too Good to Waste roadmap. Simply measuring how much food you throw out every week is a key stepping stone; this effort alone usually leads to a 25% drop in waste. In addition, did you know that expiration dates are really sell-by dates intended for supermarkets and are not required by the FDA? Many people throw out food if the expiration date is expired without checking to see if the food has actually gone bad! Finishing up what we prepared with nothing left should be the ideal. Simultaneously, we should consciously purchase only what we can reasonably consume.

“And when [the head of household] eats and drinks, he is obligated to feed strangers, orphans and widows as well as all other poor people... However, if he locks his doors and eats and drinks with his family and does not feed the poor and others going through hard times, this is not the joy which was commanded, but [merely] satisfying his stomach. Such parties are disgraceful to those who participate in them.” - Mishneh Torah, Yom Tov (Rest on A Holiday) 6:18

Just as you might donate clothes that no longer fit to people who truly need them, you can donate your leftover food. One in every 6 Americans is food insecure - they don't know if they will get the daily calories they need. Donation is especially easy from big events like weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, etc., but can be organized from smaller events too. What’s more, if you donate hot or cold cooked or opened food to a shelter with good intent, you are federally protected from all liability according to the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. Donation is an excellent way to feed others while keeping leftovers from producing greenhouse gases in the landfills.

If you must toss away uneaten or unfinished food, why not turn your spoils into soil? Composting allows food scraps to break down naturally and become nutrient rich soil for growing more food. Everyone can compost, even if you live in an apartment.

Lastly, many organizations prioritize the convenience of using disposables at events and dinners over the value of avoiding waste. At many Jewish events, a river of styrofoam, plastic and wax paper flows into the trash. This plastic river can be avoided by opting for compostable disposables, installing recycling and compost bins, or -- better yet -- eliminating use of disposables entirely. Many people see recycling bins as important symbols of their institution’s sustainability, making it all the more important that Jewish organizations have well-marked recycling receptacles.

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Prevent Food Waste

Distribute educational materials about reducing food waste
2 points
Advocacy
Host an event about how to incorporate leftovers into meals
2 points
Education
Lobby for a local school or business to reduce food waste
3 points
Advocacy
Start or join a campaign to reduce food waste
3 points
Advocacy
Complete a food waste audit
4 points
Education
Implement at least one ongoing initiative to reduce food waste
4 points
Action

Donate and Divert

Connect with local food pantries or shelters
3 points
Action
More info
Volunteer as gleaners at a local farm
2 points
Action
Host an event related to food donation
2 points
Education
Donate leftovers or send food home with staff or guests
2 points
Action
Donate excess garden produce
2 points
Action

Reduce Disposables

Encourage members to bring reusable dishware
1 points
Action
Stock reusable bags
1 points
Action
Educate about how to reduce packaging
2 points
Education
More info
Purchase products and supplies in bulk to reduce packaging waste
2 points
Action
Use recyclable or compostable plates, bowls, silverware, and/or cups
3 points
Action
Start or join a campaign to reduce harmful food packaging (such as styrofoam)
3 points
Advocacy
Stop using and distributing plastic water bottles
4 points
Action
Switch away from styrofoam
4 points
Action
More info
Use reusable cloth napkins and/or tablecloths instead of disposable
5 points
Action
Use reusable dishes, cups, and/or silverware
5 points
Action
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