Food Recovery

Food recovery is challenging whether you are a conscientious planner, member of a venue team, or a sustainability professional. Ultimately, if we don’t implement the recovery process, food waste will continue to pose a significant and ongoing challenge for our conferences and events. Let’s talk about the “Power of the Pig!”

Food Recovery Hiearchy

While source reduction remains our collective industry “North Star” best practice, let’s look at the US EPA’s Food Recovery Hiearchy. This chart shows us the next priority is assisting the food-insecure by donating to local organizations. However, there is a third-tier that many venues often overlook: feeding animals.

EPA Food Recovery Hierachy

Venue Food Rescue Challenges

An event held at a venue that donates food to a local food bank may consider itself fortunate. However, venues often face the challenge of donating only a small fraction of the full spectrum of food items produced at the event.

Food Stream Example

During a recent 2,500-person event in Las Vegas, utilizing 90%+ reusable: service ware, cups, and cutlery the food eligible for donation represented just 2% of the waste stream by weight. However, the  food waste organics,  made up a 49% portion.

Food Eligible for Donation Chart

At MeetGreen, this data about distribution is not unusual. Here’s a real-world example of how weight plays a part in food waste. Kitchen compost organics (food waste) are typically heavy and are loaded with high water content. Even a half-full standard 64-gallon “green bin” commercial kitchen “toter” can often weigh several hundred pounds.

Kitchen Compost

Boosting Food Recovery

In high-performing venues, staff members will recover organic materials for composting into a soil amendment. However, according to the US EPA, this output ranks just one level above “landfill” in its food recovery hierarchy. While often overlooked, feeding animals ranks third and can be a powerful tool for boosting food recovery and waste diversion. Enter, the “Power of the Pig!”

Pig Farm - Pigs Eating
Pig Farm - Black Labrador & Pigs in the Mud

Pig Farm Food Rescue Process

The pig farm is just 30 minutes from the major Las Vegas Strip venues. I witnessed this process first-hand. On the venue side to prepare the food, the kitchen and stewarding teams:

  • Scraped plates
  • Collected meal prep scraps
  • Emptied trays of leftover food not eligible for donation into rolling carts

These were then tipped into a large food waste transport container and transported to the Las Vegas Livestock Pig Farm. This is an optimal opportunity for venues to avoid food waste by feeding animals in the local area.

Feeding the Pigs

Once onsite, this mixture was heated to kill bacteria and screened to “de-package” any non-food-related contaminants that made their way in. It was then transported to troughs and dispensers near the pigs for consumption! Recovered venue food helped the pigs reach an average adult weight of 250 – 280 pounds.

Reducing Landfill Waste

In addition to substantial shade over the pens, Las Vegas Livestock helps reduce landfill waste by recovering and upcycling the nutrient-rich yard “bedding” about every six months, where it is sent to a farm in Heiko, NV, as a soil amendment.

Food Supply Waste

In a world where approximately 30% to 40% of our national food supply is wasted, equaling 119 billion pounds annually in the US alone, there’s a pressing need for global events to create new:

  • Strategies
  • Approaches
  • Tools

See the striking difference when the pig farm was removed from our example event:

Example Event Diversion Rate Comparision

Food Recovery & the Power of the Pig

Concluding our exploration of food rescue and the power of the pig, feeding animals to reduce food waste is one of our oldest repurposing practices. By recognizing “the power of the pig” this will help serve as a reminder that this is a potential food recovery pathway in our conferences & events.