Food Recue

Team: SPU | Amazon

How might we better connect surplus food from Seattle businesses with community nonprofits in real-time?

Problem: The problem we faced was the intersection of: too much food going to waste and too many people going hungry. An estimated 94,000 tons of food is going to both compost and garbage each year from Seattle businesses. Over 250,000 people in King County don't have enough food and a quarter of this population is children. Now more than ever, we want to ensure this food goes to people in need.

As a solid waste utility, SPU's goal is to cut food waste by 50% by 2030. When businesses donate edible surplus food, they cut food waste. But it's our community nonprofits that bear most of the burden of transporting, storing and redistributing that food. Helping these nonprofits, could be a win-win solution. 

Solution: The project team determined that a software application could be transformative in providing real time, open access information about surplus food, transportation options and other food rescue logistics. Potential users of this app could include food-oriented businesses (potential donors) and "last mile organizations" (local meal programs and food banks/pantries who conduct food rescue operations in Seattle).

Rather than build an application from scratch, SPU developed screening criteria based on known challenges expressed by Seattle nonprofits and dug into 37 pre-existing match-making apps to see if any would work for our local conditions. Examples of system requirements included: 

  • Protects existing donor-recipient relationships,
  • Ensures food safety protocols,
  • Identifies transportation options,
  • Reduces waste at all stages, and
  • Gets rapidly adopted by users.

After narrowing down the app choices, SPU interviewed current users across the country to help ensure a good fit for our community. 

Ultimately, SPU identified one app that had strong potential. Overall, the application, can pool resources, increase resilience, and get food to those who need it most. A philanthropist focusing on improving local food systems has taken interest in SPU's research findings and is now assessing whether his foundation might deploy and maintain this same food rescue app or help contribute to food rescue solutions in other meaningful ways. Collaboration across the food rescue ecosystem is critical to reduce both wasted food and food insecurity. Learn more from SPU's Food Rescue Innovation webpage.

Contact: Liz Fikejs, SPU, liz.fikejs@seattle.gov