SCARBOROUGH — U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree convened a roundtable of local business owners and nonprofit leaders Monday to discuss ways to reduce food waste, highlighted in a recent United Nations report as a source of 8 to 10 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

Pingree, accompanied by Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food safety at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, met with 20 or so others to talk about how cutting food waste helps to address growing food insecurity and reduce environmental impacts. The climate change impacts of that waste were detailed in the Aug. 8 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Rep. Chellie Pingree listens as local organization leaders talk at a roundtable discussion about food waste reduction at Hannaford corporate headquarters Monday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st District, remembers first hearing the statistic that 30 to 40 percent of food in this country is wasted. As a farmer who had lost plenty of crops over the years, she thought that made sense. She also figured she had more pressing things to worry about and let it go. She doesn’t feel that way anymore.

“The more I thought about it, this is a major environmental issue,” said Pingree, a member of the House Agriculture Committee. “We’ve got to bear down on this.”

One of the biggest areas of support Monday was for modernizing food labeling to eliminate inaccurate expiration dates that contribute to an overwhelming amount of waste of food that might be perfectly safe and acceptable to eat. Pingree this month reintroduced a bill designed to end confusion about what she called “arbitrary” dating of food, but it has not yet been voted on.

In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the first-ever domestic goal to reduce food loss and waste by 50 percent by 2030. The congresswoman said it might be time to impose other requirements for businesses and consumers, although she acknowledged that adding regulations might be challenging.


“We’ve got to mandate some of this or it’s never going to happen,” she said.

Food waste, as defined by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, refers to the discarding or alternative (non-food) use of food that is safe and nutritious for human consumption along the entire food supply chain, from primary production to the end household consumer level.

Among those in at Monday’s meeting were representatives of food pantries, composting services and others dedicated to reducing food waste. Hannaford Supermarkets, one of the state’s largest employers, hosted the roundtable at its Scarborough headquarters. Hannaford has been a leader in reducing food waste across its network of 181 stores in the Northeast, largely through donations to organizations like the Good Shepherd Food Bank and partnerships with companies like Agri-Cycle, which converts food scraps and expired packaged food into energy.

“Food waste is a big part of what we do,” said George Parmenter, Hannaford’s sustainability retailing manager.

Tyler Frank, who owns a growing Portland-area curbside composting pickup service called Garbage to Garden, said so much is related to changing people’s behaviors.

“People don’t realize how much food they waste until they start separating it out,” he said. “Then, once they start, their food waste goes down.”


Frank said one in five Portland residents subscribes to his service but he said there is need in other parts of the state. Although most cities and towns offer curbside trash and recycling pickup, municipal compost service is rare.

Another compost service in the midcoast, Scrap Dogs, is still “new to the game,” said co-owner Tessa Rosenberry, but she agreed that there is an opportunity to expand curbside composting. She said all aspects of food rescue – from donations to compost to energy production – should be done as locally as possible to cut down on further transportation costs and the increased emissions that come with it.

Clara McConnell of Good Shepherd said companies like Hannaford and others that donate food to pantries all over the state are essential, but most pantries operate on donations and volunteers, which can be tough to sustain. McConnell also said the labeling problem is acute for Good Shepherd and its network because they are sensitive about distributing expired food, even if it’s safe. She said Good Shepherd then struggles when it has to dispose of food it can’t use.

Similarly, Jason Lilley, a sustainable-agriculture professional with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Cumberland County, said many Maine farmers need more storage options, and sometimes cooling options, so fresh produce doesn’t spoil before it can be distributed.

Ryan Parker of FoodCorps, an Americorps-affiliated organization that focuses on trying to shift culture within schools, said establishing behaviors among young people now pays dividends, the same way it did for recycling a generation ago.

Sarah Lakeman of the Natural Resources Council of Maine agreed and said one of the biggest reasons schools end up with so much food waste is because lunch periods are so short – only 15 minutes in some cases. She’d like to see that change.

Yiannas, the FDA deputy commissioner, mostly listened to the ideas and suggestions presented Monday. He said the biggest factor is psychological.

“How do you make this a societal norm,” he said.

Pingree and Yiannas also were scheduled to participate in another roundtable Monday on food safety practices at Wyman’s of Maine in Portland.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: