Food Recovery Efforts Applauded in City Climate Plan

Pitt’s Food Recovery Heroes attract attention for their food waste collection and donation efforts.

When Pitt Food Recovery Heroes President Emily Hanna joined the club in 2014, she did so with a focus on fighting hunger across the campus and region.

“It felt like such a disconnect that these huge amounts of food could be thrown away while people were going hungry,” said Hanna, a senior. “Joining Food Recovery Heroes allowed me to directly participate in a solution addressing these issues.”

During those three years, she and the student-run group saved tons of leftovers from landfills by collecting food left over in dining halls and at local establishments to donate to organizations that feed the hungry.

“Not only are we fighting food insecurity,” Hanna said; they’re also working to make the world more livable overall.

And now, a plan to map out a sustainable future for the city of Pittsburgh is following the footsteps of Pitt Food Recovery Heroes and other groups working to keep food on the table.

The City of Pittsburgh’s Climate Action Plan 3.0, an early draft of which was released online this month, lauds efforts made by Pitt’s Food Recovery Heroes. Officials in Pittsburgh’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Sustainability said the final draft is expected to be approved by City Council before the end of the year.

Since Food Recovery Heroes was founded in 2014, the group has collected about 14,786 pounds of food during the school year. Student volunteers who picked up recovery duties during holiday and summer breaks helped to raise the total amount collected to approximately 22,000 pounds, according to Nick Goodfellow, sustainability coordinator for Pitt Dining by Sodexo.

Leftovers from Einstein Bagels and Oakland Bakery and Market that would have been discarded instead went to locations including Jubilee Soup Kitchen, FOCUS Pittsburgh and to residents at Allegheny County Housing Authority’s Pressley Street High Rise.

As the group expanded collection efforts, it connected with local nonprofit 412 Food Rescue to find more places to distribute.

Today, about 30 active members participate in collections — packing perishable food into coolers and traveling to the donation sites at least twice a day.

The club also has helped to complement Pitt Dining’s existing sustainability efforts, which were also recognized in the city’s plan.

Goodfellow said the club works with Pitt Dining leadership to identify the best campus locations for food recovery and to figure out exactly how much can be recovered. Food Recovery Heroes already collects food from Market Central and this month, the group began collecting from the Petersen Events Center after basketball games. In January, the efforts will expand to The Perch at Sutherland.

Pitt Dining has emphasized eliminating food waste in dining halls since at least 2009, when it removed trays — which students often loaded with more food than they could eat — from dining facilities. Instead, it offers meals that are pre-plated, and the practice reduced food waste by 30 percent. However, Goodfellow said Pitt Dining recently began using smaller dishes to plate entrees and offering samples to diners before they choose an entire dish after a recent audit showed diners at Market Central and The Perch threw out a half-ton of food every day.

“We haven’t been able to measure the results of that yet but we think that’s one way we can reduce waste in the facility,” said Goodfellow.

Even the kitchen’s attitude surrounding food use is changing.

“Spoilage, the trimmings from a cucumber, that’s still food waste. We’re going to introduce a system to help track that and have a visual document of what’s thrown out so we can assess how to improve production in cooking to minimize waste,” Goodfellow said.