This month, you’ll toss 24 pounds of food in the trash. This adds up to nearly 300 pounds of food wasted per year, costing the average four-person family about $1,500.

Large white signs with bold black font lined the entrance to Reduce and Recover: Save Food for People, featuring food waste facts like these from savethefood.com. Reduce and Recover was a two-day conference at the Harvard Law School that brought together nearly 300 attendees, volunteers, and industry experts to discuss food waste prevention.

A major topic of discussion was consumer education. Many depend on food labels when purchasing or disposing of food. But consumers may not know that these labels — expiration dates, sell-by dates, best-by dates, etc. — aren’t based on any science or federal legislation.

During a session on food labels and expiration dates, attendees watched “Expired: Food Waste in America,” the Harvard Food Law Policy Clinic's documentary on food labels which focuses on a Montana law that prevents selling or donating milk 12 days past pasteurization. Moderator Adam Rein drew a laugh from the audience when he offered a moment of silence for the wasted milk.

“Consumers play a huge role in this. Forty-five percent of all food waste happens in consumers’ homes,” said Emily Broad Leib, Director of the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic. Broad Leib has become a national leader in the food label and waste prevention debate.

Leib said a conference was ideal for bringing together thought leaders, but also for the Clinic to learn food waste stories to use in their push for proper food labels.

Attendee Christine Parauda volunteers with LocalShare in New Jersey, an organization that works with local farmers to glean unpicked crops and provide them to programs that feed the hungry.>

“The contact [at the conference] has been really valuable. We’re learning from each other,” she said, adding that a Clinic scholarship enabled her to attend. “This validates everything that we’re doing.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promotes a food recovery hierarchy, which prioritizes how consumers and organizations should eliminate food waste. The first priority is source reduction, followed by feeding the hungry, feeding animals, industrial uses, composting, and the least preferred method, trashing.

Consumers play a huge role in this. Forty-five percent of all food waste happens in consumers’ homes.

Janet Bowen, a representative from the EPA, discussed an EPA program called “Food: Too Good to Waste,” a toolkit that provides strategies for consumers to prevent food waste at home, which ultimately reduces costs for families. She said a pilot program in Rhode Island was successful in lessening food waste. Compared to baseline food waste in households, there were significant reductions in weight and volume of food wasted in the test households.

“We need to provide more awareness that there’s something [consumers] can do for this issue,” she said.

After the morning sessions, attendees lined a long buffet line featuring chicken, rolls, broccoli salad, and cookies. Colorful signs were scattered on the table, noting that all of the food provided at the conference was re-purposed catering excess, prep trim, and over-ordered ingredients — practicing the priority of eliminating food waste from the source.

The Food Law and Policy Clinic sponsored the conference, with support from the EPA and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).


Visit the conference website to view videos from the event.