It’s common knowledge that food waste is a serious problem — but most people are unaware of the crazy quantity of perfectly good eats that goes straight into the garbage.
Experts estimate it at 40 percent, so that’s a whopping amount of tonnage in a city of some 4 million souls.
In fact, according to the California Integrated Waste Management Board, 6 million tons of food scraps or waste is thrown away in this state every year. Food is the largest source of waste in California and makes up about 18 percent of what goes into landfills.
Pretty dismal for a state that’s known for being conscious.
Enter Postmates. The virally popular delivery service has expanded its usefulness into a new endeavor: rescuing food.
Postmates drivers in the L.A. area now are picking up leftover foodstuffs from local restaurants — and dropping it at local shelters.
In a city with a significant homeless population (and a serious amount of food waste), this is a pretty big deal.
The program — which kicked off in October — is called FoodFight!, and it’s the first rollout from Civic Labs, the social impact arm of Postmates, which launched in 2017.
Disney Petit, Civic Labs project manager, leads a team of people dedicated to supporting projects that help the communities where Postmates operates.
“Since we already have a great logistics platform, we thought we could really be a part of this solution in terms of moving food to people who need it in our communities,” Petit says.
Participating restaurants — including Butcher’s Daughter, Carrera Cafe, Bangin’ Basil and Locali — can literally touch a button to coordinate food pickup at the close of business. As of now, close to 400 restaurants in the Greater L.A. area are eligible to make surplus food donations.
So why L.A.?
“Los Angeles is our largest Postmates market, and we knew there was an appetite for a program like this,” Petit says. “I’ve seen this problem firsthand and it’s not just a problem in L.A., it’s a nationwide problem. We knew we could start in L.A. and there would be restaurants who would pick up this immediately, and customers in that market would be excited about this.”
“Although we don’t have a ton of waste at the end of the day, we’ve been waiting for a program like this to launch,” says Kari Hendrick, director of operations for the Butcher's Daughter, a plant-based restaurant, cafe, juice bar and “vegetable slaughterhouse" on Abbot Kinney in Venice.
“It’s brilliant, and we love how it continuously connects the community like a thread, from the chef to the driver to the shelter to the unhoused and hungry community.”
The shelters and missions are fans of the program, too. “FoodFight! has brought a lot of unique, high-quality food from local restaurants directly to our doorstep, adding variety to what we can offer to our guests,” says Darryl Banks, transportation and warehouse manager of Midnight Mission.
He called it “hugely impactful.” And it brings a diverse array of eats, something that may be lacking when it comes to donated food.
“A misconception that many people have is that any extra food is helpful, when in reality many people living on the streets also have allergies, are vegan, gluten-free, vegetarian, etc.,” Hendrick explains. “We’d love to be able to share our excess food with them, in hopes that they’re able to have some stability in their diet — giving them more energy and clarity to address the day-to-day issues that they face.”
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The major barrier for the program is shelter hours, Petit says. Many close for donations earlier than restaurants are finished serving, so the Civic Labs team is working on creative solutions, including additional funding for staffing.
L.A. is just the beginning, according to Petit. “We are very aspirational in this,” she says. “We’re going to bring this nationwide. It fills in the gap of what’s missing when it comes to solving the food-waste issue. Restaurants in cities across America would be able to have us come pick up leftover food and take it to a shelter at the touch of a button.”
Postmates is looking to work with governments and city officials in order to scale as quickly as possible — and hopes to be in all major cities by 2020. Foodies who want to support participating restaurants can check out the Postmates website for a list.
Look out, food waste, Postmates is coming for you.