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Denver Releases Action Plan to Reduce Wasted Food, Feed More Residents in Need

The Denver Department of Public Health & Environment (DDPHE) announced today the release of its Food Action Plan, a set of strategic projects to increase food equity in the city. The plan serves as an action-oriented companion piece to the Denver Food Vision, an aspirational view of advancing our food system in Denver.

Using the Food Vision as our guiding document, the Food Action Plan was created to fulfill the goals set forward in the Food Vision after 18 months of community engagement. The Food Vision framework is organized by four interrelated focus areas: Inclusive, Vibrant, Healthy and Resilient. Among other goals articulated in the focus areas, the Food Vision aims to reduce the number of food insecure households by 55 percent (Healthy) and cut the volume of food waste in residential garbage collection by 57 percent citywide by 2030 (Resilient).

In addition to contributing toward those goals, the Food Action Plan addresses many city objectives, including those set out in our 2020 Sustainability Goals, Climate Action Plan 2050, and the Community Health Improvement Plan.

“These are bold ambitions that require extensive collaboration and commitment,” said Denver Public Health & Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald. “We will continue to work in partnership with the entire community – businesses, individuals, other government agencies, and nonprofits – to achieve these innovations.”

As part of our initial release of the Food Action Plan, we are pleased to announce our first project—a collaborative effort with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), funded by The Rockefeller Foundation, to reduce the amount of food being wasted in Denver homes and businesses.

“When food goes to waste, so does everything it takes to get it to our plates—from water to energy and money,” said Elizabeth Balkan, food waste director at NRDC. “The good news is, Denver—and cities nationwide—are uniquely positioned to tackle this problem. In the process, they can make their communities more resilient, economically vibrant and equitable.”

Together with NRDC, the City and County of Denver will integrate multiple strategies to prevent food from going to waste, rescue surplus food for those in need, and recycle food scraps. This includes:

  • Participating in a public education campaign aimed at cutting food waste from its largest sources, especially consumers.
  • Engaging businesses through challenges and city-level technical assistance by DDPHE’s Certifiably Green Denver Program, which works with local businesses to increase sustainable practices.
  • Encouraging surplus food donation by local businesses, engaging public health inspectors, and various forms of stakeholder engagement to address the food rescue resources gap.
  • Encouraging and incentivizing organics recycling and composting by residents.

“Understanding the drivers of and potential for wasted food in Denver was an important first step in advancing a more sustainable citywide food system,” said Devon Klatell, Senior Associate Director and Initiative Strategy Lead for Food at The Rockefeller Foundation. “NRDC found that an additional 7.1 million meals could be rescued every year, which would close Denver’s meal gap by 46%. The report findings, coupled with a strong set of public and private sector partners, provide the tools needed to rescue and deliver more nutritious foods to people in Denver and beyond.”

Up to 40 percent of the U.S. food supply—worth $218 billion—goes uneaten each year. It’s a problem that costs the average family of four $1,800 annually. This takes an enormous environmental toll in terms of water, energy, agricultural chemicals, and labor that go to waste when food is discarded. Unbelievably, at the same time, one in eight Denver residents does not have a reliable supply of food.

Last fall, NRDC, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, released a pair of reports that looked at food waste and food rescue potential in Denver. Among other things, it found more than four pounds of food per person on average was wasted at home every week in Denver, and 76 percent of that could have been eaten. It also revealed up to 7.1 million additional meals annually could be donated in Denver beyond current donations, under optimal conditions.

DDPHE is excited to share our Denver Food Action Plan, as it kicks off a series of projects with an array of partners across the community and the nation, all with one focus in mind. We will continue to roll out projects that are part of this plan in the weeks and months to come. Our Food Vision showed us what was possible to increase food equity here in Denver, and the Food Action Plan provides us a path to achieve this bold goal.