Loop Closing partnered with Recycle Leaders LLC and Soilful to complete a DOEE Sustainable DC (SDC) sponsored project: Food First: A Replicable Model for Engaging Ward 7 and 8 Residents in Taking Action on Sustainable DC Topics. In a series of blog posts, we want to share with the greater Washington, DC community our experiences with our partners, the projects' participants, and communities impacted. We hope DOEE benefits from the residents' suggestions and replicates our work in these wards, throughout the city, and on other SDC topics. We would also love the greater community to learn from our experiences and be incentivized to engage with food waste diversion practices and holistic community engagement!
Food Waste Action Research Teams
This blog post will describe one of the two pilots, the “Team up on Food Waste Action Research Project” which created the Food Waste Action Research Team. The purpose of the initiative was to identify a set of actions for residents to adopt, develop implementation plans supporting those actions, and to pilot at least one process. Ten Ward 7 and 8 residents were selected to participate and received payment to apply their sustainability skills, gain awareness, and participate in planning.
Over the course of eight weeks, teammates underwent training on collecting and analyzing waste data using several audit methodologies and engaging their households in participating in a "Team Up on Food Waste" challenge. It was designed to be a fun way to help households prevent waste and save money while simultaneously generating high-quality data that can inform the DC government’s efforts to achieve zero waste. Each teammate tracked their own household’s waste and learned to use data they collected to generate and test strategies on how to prevent food waste in their own lives.
Sparking Joy with Tangible Results
Each of the teammates who completed the challenge reported that it brought joy to their lives. They not only learned about food waste diversion, but they also had fun! All admitted that they were now aware of the amount of food they were throwing away and taking action to reduce it. In addition, several teammates participated in a small optional side pilot project to track and minimize preventable food service-ware. The project measured a tangible difference as the participants reduced their preventable food waste by 60%, about 0.3 lbs/person/day to about 0.1 lbs/person/day. Several teammates also reported measuring cost savings. One teammate estimated that she spent about $400 in groceries per month and cut her grocery bill by more than half!
Together, the whole Team aimed to contribute to the Sustainable DC target to reduce food waste by 60% by 2032, aligned with the United States’ aim of Winning on Reducing Food Waste and the Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 target of halving global food waste by 2030.
Residents’ Great - and Organic - Ideas
Our resident teams also came up with thoughtful suggestions of what they and the government could implement to motivate food waste diversion. Here is the shortlist of potential “quick win” suggestions:
- Have a community box at community gardens so people can share their harvest
- Install Little Free Pantries similar to the Little Free Libraries
- Replace - or at least supplement - ice cream trucks with produce trucks
- Hire DC Go-Go bands to create a song, do an event, and set up tables to talk about food waste and composting
- Add segregation of organic waste at the DPW Fort Totten drop-off, which currently only has refuse
- In local bodegas, promote frozen vegetables with recipe cards on making simple, cheap meals with few ingredients that are available together (e.g., canned and frozen vegetables)
- Offer simple cooking classes for low budget meals at libraries and recreation centers
- Create a parking space reserved for compost drop-off at Eastern Market “for people doing good for the community”
- Install a community garden or pop up farmers market in space across from Anacostia Arts Center
Policy deterrents and solutions
There is no policy preventing people from tracking their own waste and taking action to reduce it! However, there are structural barriers to implementing some best practices for reducing food waste, such as planning grocery shopping, when facing food access and food security challenges such as Ward 7 and 8 residents. Sustainable DC should continue to work on systemic solutions to improving the food system to deliver healthy foods to all residents, even while asking residents to take action in their own lives to improve their own situations. We provided many suggestions in our report - read this series' third blog to learn about them.
Next Steps - Bringing it to the Schools
Our partner, Recycle Leaders LLC, and the Audubon Naturalist Society are planning to carry this work forward as part of the Garbology lesson plans funded by OSSE's environmental literacy program. They will "package" individual lesson plans inclusive for students from families facing challenges to food access and food security based on the lessons learned from this project. Teachers will deliver the plans at the early childhood and elementary/middle school levels. High school student leaders/green teams will lead team research action challenges at their schools. Recycle Leaders LLC and Audubon Naturalist Society plan to provide schools and families the opportunity to sign up for a region-wide 4-week challenge in February 2021, focusing on high schools. The lessons learned from this experience will inform a "package" that could be used by summer internship programs, especially the Marion Barry Summer Youth Employment Program, to support student leadership development and food waste reduction during summer 2021. In addition, although they plan to take the pilot to scale by making the package available to all schools across the country and working with the EPA's Food too Good to Waste peer-network to promote it to districts across the country.
Anyone Can Be a Changemaker!
We learned so much from this experience, which we will apply to our future community work. Perhaps most importantly, we truly recognized the diversity of situations regarding food consumption and waste diversion. The participants ranged from single to married, caring for elders, caring for lots of kids - one method doesn’t fit all!
We also will continue to institute that the concept that being a “researcher” and “changemaker” is accessible to everyone. We recognized residents for their creativity, hard work, and consistent dedication to the project and believe they are inspired to continue these practices independently. Anyone can be a changemaker if given the right context, tools, and support!