What happens to those brown-spotted bananas or slightly tarnished mushrooms that you bypass for more attractive produce at the grocery store? Unfortunately, a lot of them end up in the landfill.
A 2012 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) tells the story in numbers. According to “Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill,” $165 billion worth of food is produced in the U.S. each year and subsequently goes unconsumed. That’s more than 10 times the amount of food discarded today in Southeast Asia, and double the amount of food Americans threw away in 1970.
The report states that “the uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills as the single largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste, where it accounts for a large portion of U.S. methane emissions.”
But now, dairy cows are starting to dine on the fruits and veggies we leave behind.
Discarded food put to use
A new effort is under way to gather discarded fruits and vegetables from retailers and repurpose them into animal feed. Viridiun LLC, an Atlanta, Ga.-area-based company specializing in food recycling, is working with dairy and beef operations in 13 states to supply high-quality cattle feed made up of processed produce.
“As Americans, we’ve grown very particular about the quality and appearance of the fruits and vegetables we purchase,” says Eric Hickman, president and CEO of Viridiun. “But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with most of the produce left behind, except that its acceptable shelf life, by consumers’ standards, has expired.”
Hickman and his colleagues have developed a collection and distribution system to regularly gather discarded produce from grocery stores, deliver it to cattle farms, and process it into a highly nutritious feed source.
“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that, next to human consumption, animal feed is the second-most efficient use of fruits and vegetables,” says Hickman. “Our job is to take that concept and make it a reality.”
‘They love it’
We all know that fruits and vegetables are good for us, but what about the cows? Viridiun turned to Mark
Viridiun LLC currently collects 175 truckloads of discarded grocery produce totaling 4 million pounds per week. Froetschel, professor of animal and dairy science at the University of Georgia, to find out. Froetschel and his team have conducted several studies to evaluate various feed characteristics of the grocery byproduct feed. Perhaps the most important initial question: would cows eat it?