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San Antonio Food Bank Fights Hunger by Preventing Food Waste 

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But, the benefit could exceed this infrastructure cost. According to Cooper, getting supermarket attention and participation has not been an issue. But maintaining interest in the gritty, unglamorous details has proven more difficult.

"I think the challenge is sustaining the transaction," said Cooper. "I think the food bank is always working hard to gain support from the community so we can provide that service to the donor to get that food to those in need." 

Here, a donation law could be vital. Choosing the stick over the carrot would require all participants to maintain the supply chain or suffer the fines and bad press.

"It's getting the regulatory entities, the retailers and the charities all on the same page to impact the community, the economy and the environment in the best possible way," said Cooper. "There are some additional logistics and possible labor expenses, but the benefit outweighs those expenses."

With a donation law on the books, American hunger and sustainability could be radically improved. In America, 49 million people — about 15.3 percent of the population — face hunger, not knowing where their next meal will come from.

Requiring supermarkets to donate excess and unsold food could put a real dent in these numbers and the $76 billion the government spends on food assistance programs.

Food waste also presents a roadblock to building a more sustainable nation. In 2010, a staggering 133 billion pounds of food went uneaten. Given that it takes 25 gallons of water to grow one pound of wheat, and 2,400 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, food waste represents a wealth of American resources thrown into the dumpster.

Once in the landfill, decomposing food produces methane, a greenhouse gas 21-times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide. In America, landfill waste accounts for 34 percent of all methane emissions. Though the largest source of landfill waste is from consumer leftovers, adjusting individual action is far more difficult than regulating an industry with a single law. A donation policy — to reroute unsold food to the hungry or send it back to the field as fertilizer — would cut methane emissions without any new or expensive technology coming into play.

In September 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency announced the first national food waste goal, calling for a 50-percent reduction in waste by 2030. From fast-food-from-scraps to excess-saving software and current donation efforts, there are considerable efforts coming from the private sector to achieve this goal. But a supermarket law à la the French could ensure that we can ring this bell in 2030 — that this food waste reduction won't be another sustainability goal swept aside in the pursuit of economic growth.

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February 24, 2021

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