Food Rescue Innovation

People loading fruit onto truck
Volunteers unloading surplus food, which will get redistributed to families in need. This is one part of “rescuing food” that would otherwise have gone to garbage or compost.


Food Rescue: A Community-based Solution to Reduce Waste

Food is the single largest material going to garbage from Seattle businesses. Between 50-70% of this food could be edible and even more edible surplus food might be going to compost. Donating surplus food is just one critical tool in addressing both food security and diverting edible food from the waste stream. SPU is building cross-sector collaboration, investigating incentives to improve donation practices, identifying policies, and putting present-day food insecurity (hunger) challenges at the center.


Our Solid Waste Goals

  1. Reduce food and packaging waste occurring in food rescue operations (from both donors and rescue organizations). 
  2. Reduce cross contamination of food and packaging in Seattle's compost, recycling, and garbage streams. 
  3. Increase the quality and volume of edible food serving Seattle residents in need.

We aim to reach these goals by:

  • Developing a coalition of partners to gather data and take joint action.
  • Creating metrics for measuring progress and shared success. 
  • Developing tools, assistance, incentives, funding, and policies that reduce wasted food and packaging contamination within food rescue operations.  


Why Food Rescue and Why SPU?

When there are gaps in food rescue operations, food and packaging go to landfill, packaging contaminates compost streams, or food contaminates recycling streams. These problems increase materials going into Seattle's waste stream and increase SPU costs to manage waste for Seattle ratepayers. When nutritious, edible food goes to compost, Seattle nonprofits lose the opportunity to share food with those who need it most. Though food rescue will not end food insecurity, it can increase food availability and reduce waste.

To help both nonprofits and food businesses create systemic, lasting change, SPU is facilitating cross sector awareness and collaborative action that ultimately reduces waste and increases the quality of rescued food. Beyond this convening role, we are gathering data to establish food rescue costs, along with associated waste and packaging contamination. In the future, we may provide technical assistance to businesses and nonprofits, incentives for behavior change, and policy solutions that reinforce best practices for cutting food and packaging waste.


Our Next Steps

  • Use research done to date to establish focused collaborative action.
  • Share findings and recruit hunger relief organizations and donors who are ready to try new business models, behaviors, and ways of operating that reduce waste in operations.
  • Use results to inform future outreach and education, incentives, potential policies, and funding.  


Dig in Deeper

  • Work Done to Date: learn about projects, reports, and policies
  • FAQs: explore the intersection of food waste and rescue


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