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Rob Greenfield: The Food Waste Fiasco

We’ve written about food waste on a couple of occasions, but mainly focused on apps and gadgets that can help reduce food waste in the home. Recently, we were invited to a private event hosted by OLIO (the food sharing app) to hear a talk by Rob Greenfield about The Food Waste Fiasco in the USA. It was an inspiring talk that uncovered the remarkable amount of food wasted by supermarkets and grocery stores across America and the rest of the developed world.

The event was hosted in a small private dining room at a new restaurant in London’s Notting Hill. Tiny Leaf restaurant only serves organic, vegetarian food made from food waste – it was a perfect setting for such an event.


The restaurant is due to open this weekend and we’re hoping to book a table very soon to check out the food waste menu. And yes, of course we’ll report back on the experience!

Food waste is a huge deal and it’s absolutely incredible how much food is wasted across the world when so many go hungry every day. Here are some chilling facts:

  • Over a third of all food produced globally goes uneaten
  • UK households throw away £12.5 billion of edible food and drink every year
  • If food waste was a country it’d be the 3rd largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world
  • Tesco, a large supermarket chain in the UK, said they threw away almost 30,000 tonnes of food in six months back in 2013.

Off the Grid Across America

Rob Greenfield (a very apt name for an activist and environmentalist) is an adventurous fellow who lives with no debt to his name in a Tiny House in San Diego, California. He lives a simple life and is a “dude making a difference” which is also the title of his first book.

Last year, he undertook the challenge of travelling across the USA “off the grid” to raise awareness of our impact on the environment and bring significant attention to the amount of food that’s wasted in America every day.


Apparently cycling 4700 miles was the easy part; the hard part was to do it “off the grid”. He set himself the following rules:

  • Only travel by cycling or walking – no public transport
  • Using electricity generated by solar panels.
  • Creating near zero trash and carrying it for the entire journey.
  • Using water directly from natural sources (lakes, rivers, wells, and rain) or water that is going to waste.
  • Eating locally produced, organic, and unpackaged foods or food that is going to waste.
  • Using human generated power and avoiding fossil fuels completely.
  • Shopping at businesses that are committed to creating a healthy planet.

This quote from his website sums up the success of his trip:

“Over 104 days of cycling, Rob managed to use just 160 gallons of water, create a mere 2 pounds of trash, plug into only 5 outlets, not turn on a single light switch and consumed a remarkable 284 pounds of food from dumpsters.”

Rob’s plan was to only eat local, organic, natural, unpackaged foods but that’s not always the easiest thing to come by and when you’re cycling, you need serious amounts of energy. When he couldn’t find food that met the “good for you” criteria, he would go dumpster diving and find food that was being thrown out by supermarkets and grocery stores.

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The amount of perfectly good, still packaged, in date, fit for human consumption food he found was incredible and in each city he visited, he decided to throw a “food waste fiasco”. He’d team up with local volunteers and they’d go dumpster diving and showcase their findings and invite the local community to help themselves to food that would otherwise have ended up in landfill.

Here’s a selection of photos from Rob’s 20 fiascos across the states, showcasing the incredible quantities of food that he fished out of dumpsters:

Chicago, Illinois – August 19th – Lincoln Park


Cleveland, Ohio – September 5th- Cleveland Public Square


New York City, New York – September 30th – Union Square


Burlington, Vermont – October 14th- University of Vermont


Taking Positive Action: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

The stories of Rob’s adventures are amazing but there is an important takeaway here: we waste an inordinate amount of food whilst people go hungry. Food is wasted at home, by grocery stores and by farms who have to abide by strict rules about the shape, size and amount of food produced. But we can help make a significant impact on this global issue by raising awareness and taking action wherever possible.

So, what’s Rob’s solution to food waste? Firstly, he’s clear to point out that he’s not on a mission to convince everyone to go and start dumpster diving. Instead, he believes the food waste problem can be solved by making changes at the business end of food production, sales and distribution as well as in the home. It’s all about “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.

Reduce: The USA produces enough food to feed itself twice (despite over 49 million Americans being classified as food insecure) so the first step is to reduce the amount of food produced. And one of the biggest ways to reduce this is to relax the strict cosmetic requirements of food having to be a certain shape, size, colour etc.

Reuse: The infrastructure is there in countries like the USA and UK (and many others) for grocery businesses to donate their food waste to charity. For many businesses, a lack of awareness, laziness or their primary concern of just making a profit are the most common factors for not doing this. Donating food to charities instead of having it thrown in the dumpster goes a long way to ensuring that people who are in need of food don’t continue to go hungry.

Recycle: Instead of food waste going to landfill, it can be fed to animals. One of the most environmentally friendly sources of food is pigs that have been raised on food waste! Another option is composting food waste and putting the nutrients back into the ground as a fertiliser. Compost should be the last resort, especially if the wasted food is still fit for human consumption.

So this may be the way to approach a solution at the farming and grocery store level, but what can we do to help make a difference? Rob outlined a few actionable steps:

We can take the case against food waste direct to the managers of our local stores and supermarkets. We can demand ugly fruit and veg to be allowed into the supermarkets – it’s perfectly good food, who cares what it looks like. Alternatively, we could request that ugly, “scary looking” produce be used to make other food products (like juices or smoothies) to save poor unsuspecting customers from seeing it on the shelves.

We can ask grocery stores to “donate not dump” and give away their food waste to charities.

Above all, we should lead by example and reduce the amount of food waste in our homes. That means buying less or growing our own food – although this certainly isn’t easy or always an option.

Finally, we can compost our own food waste or share unwanted food with those that can make use of it – through apps like OLIO.

Rob closed with an incredibly powerful statement:

“From what I’ve seen, we’re at a tipping point for ending food waste and the excitement inside me tells me that our generation can drastically reduce food waste and hunger in our time. So I encourage you to join me by leading by example and ask grocery stores to Donate not Dump”.

You can read more about Rob and the Food Waste Fiascos on his site

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