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Reducing Food Waste-A 'win' for a healthier lifestyle and a healthier planet

Today, the U.S. faces major challenges to the health of our population and the health of our planet. For example, about half of all adults in the U.S. have one or more preventable, chronic diseases, such as obesity, heart disease or diabetes. Medical experts say a healthy lifestyle, including eating a variety of healthful foods with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, can help prevent or slow down the progression of chronic disease.

And yet, every year in the U.S., we waste nearly one-third of the overall food supply, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Such a huge amount of wasted food has a major impact on food security and resource conservation. It is also the source of 18 percent of all environmentally harmful methane emissions coming from U.S. landfills.

A large percentage of the food waste stream in the U.S. is fruits and vegetables – just what we should be eating more of to prevent chronic disease. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports more than one-third of all the vegetables and fruits purchased by Americans in 2010 were wasted.

This is the third in a series of articles on recent advances in U.S. efforts to take a more proactive, preventive approach to improving and protecting the health of our citizens and our environment. We’ll also talk about what you can do at home, and how Washington Hospital works every day to support a healthier community and contribute to a cleaner, greener planet.

A Triple Win

“You can’t separate healthy eating from reducing waste and protecting the environment,” said Kimberlee Alvari, registered dietitian and director of Food and Nutrition Clinical Services at Washington Hospital. “Reducing wasted food is a triple win. It's good for our health, our economy and our planet.”

Recently, the U.S. government announced a new initiative designed to increase the sustainability of our food stream and protect the environment by reducing food waste across the country. Sponsored by the EPA and USDA, it is the first-ever National Food Reduction Goal calling for a 50 percent decline in food waste by the year 2030. Reaching this goal will help conserve natural resources and protect our planet from climate change.

The EPA’s Net Zero Initiative works with local communities to evaluate ways of reducing the amount of food waste being sent to landfills. The program uses the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy to guide and prioritize actions that divert food waste from landfills.

Where the Patient Comes First

“At Washington Hospital, the patient comes first, so we focus on nourishing, healing and providing exceptional care,” explained Alvari. “And, as one of the largest businesses in this community and a health care leader, we follow our conscience in providing healthy, sustainable food to our patients, visitors and staff. At the same time, we consider how our actions are affecting the environment.” The Hospital uses various strategies to procure the healthiest, tastiest produce from vendors at the best possible price. It develops relationships with local food sources, keeping tabs on all aspects of the supply chain from the farm to the plate. Using its own and the purchasing power of other collaborating Bay Area hospitals, Washington Hospital works with growers to create a supply chain that is sustainable and controls costs.

“We use technology to create a flexible menu plan that can be easily adjusted based on the season and other factors that influence the cost and availability of the foods we need,” Alvari added.

The Hospital also has a Green Team made up of employees from various departments. The group spearheads a wide range of projects that conserve resources, reduce waste, and encourage reuse and recycling in its own facility and throughout the community.

Washington Hospital is a member of the Med-Ed Collaborative of Healthcare Without Harm, an international coalition of hospitals and health care systems that promote the health of people and the environment. In recognition for its mission of sustainability, the Hospital recently won the Practice Greenhealth “Partner for Change” award for the fifth consecutive year.

What You Can Do

The EPA reports that in 2013, Americans disposed of more than 35 million tons of food waste, with about 95 percent ending up in landfills or combustion facilities. You and your family can do things at home to help support a greener, cleaner environment while also contributing to your own healthy lifestyle:

  • Become more mindful of how your actions support or detract from a healthy lifestyle and a healthy environment.
  • Before shopping, check the refrigerator and cupboards so you won’t buy food you already have. Every week, make a list of what should be used up and base your upcoming meal plan on these items.
  • To avoid having to throw out over-ripe fruit, store bananas, apples and tomatoes by themselves, as they give off natural gases that make other produce spoil faster. Store fruits and vegetables in different bins.
  • Use your freezer! Freeze foods like bread, sliced fruit or meat that you know won’t get eaten quickly.
  • Participate in some of the environmentally friendly community programs offered by Washington Hospital: Unused Medication Drop-off, Bike to Work Day, Earth Day celebration, and more. See for information.

Learn More

To learn more about Washington Hospital and its Green Team initiatives, go to For more information about sustainability programs sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and for more tips on reducing wasted food at home, go to To learn more about Healthcare Without Harm, go to