“ReFED Profiles'' takes a peek behind the curtain to introduce you to the ReFED team members working on critical projects in support of our mission to catalyze the food system toward evidence-based action to stop wasting food. By illuminating the people behind our biggest initiatives, we hope to shine a light on the talented minds, community collaboration, and tremendous passion that goes into our work.
Minnie Ringland joined ReFED in 2021 as a Climate Fellow. After focusing on biology research in college, she was eager to get more “hands-on” and began working in environmental compliance. There she learned the processes and challenges of fulfilling environmental regulatory requirements, and the experience led her to pursue a Master in Environmental Science and Management at the Bren School at UC Santa Barbara. Her capstone project, landscape carbon accounting for the County of Santa Barbara, re-sparked an interest in food systems and how food is connected to the environment, health, equity, and more.
“I’m so motivated by ReFED's work, because food waste is connected to so many socio-environmental issues,” says Minnie. “Tackling it systemically feels like a more effective way to drive benefits for so many different stakeholders.”
For many in the space, reducing food waste has long been understood as a top solution in mitigating climate change. And recently, significant strides have been made at the federal level to recognize this potential and address the problem. A U.S. EPA report published in October 2023 concluded that 58% of methane emissions from landfills come from wasted food, and in December, the EPA, FDA, and USDA released a draft national strategy on food waste reduction and organics recycling. Still, Minnie says these are just first steps toward reducing the impact of food waste on the climate. ”Food waste itself, and the associated emissions, comes from all sectors and involves many actors. The problem has to be solved by coordinating effort between stakeholders and making sure the solutions fit the context.”
One of the ways to start understanding the context is by using the ReFED Insights Engine. As ReFED’s Manager of Climate & Insights, Minnie works on many of the Insights Engine’s tools, particularly the Impact Calculator. This tool allows users to estimate the environmental impacts of surplus food that are generated in their operations and subsequently explore the effect of implementing different solutions. The Impact Calculator uses a life cycle approach. “That means that all the activities that generate greenhouse gases – from growing the food, processing it, transporting it, storing it, and preparing it – all get added up,” says Minnie as she explains upstream emissions. Downstream emissions – ones that are produced as the food becomes “waste” – are also calculated, which completes the life cycle and provides the user with a comprehensive view of the environmental impact of their surplus food.
Currently, the Impact Calculator provides emissions data in the form of carbon dioxide equivalent or CO2e, which combines the global warming potential of three different greenhouse gases into a single measure. But recently, ReFED received a grant from the Global Methane Hub – an organization focused on reducing methane and boosting philanthropic resources that help achieve that goal. Part of this grant will go toward pulling out the methane gas component in the Impact Calculator to give users a better estimate of methane emissions and potential hotspots they should target. “The work we’re doing for the Global Methane Hub is really exciting, because it responds to the urgent need to focus on methane as a priority greenhouse gas to reduce in the next decade,” explains Minnie. “And it’s presenting a cool opportunity to do some user research and really dig into the use cases of our partners and understand what features and views of the emissions data are of most interest to our stakeholders.”
As a member of the Data & Insights team, Minnie is motivated by ReFED’s data-driven approach to the food waste problem. “Our ethos is all about driving action at the speed we need by providing the information we know people require to make strategic decisions,” she says. This focus on data is the foundation for much of ReFED’s work, and Minnie and her team’s collection and analysis of that data supports a number of ReFED programs and partnerships. As a resource partner to the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment, Minnie’s team aggregates and analyzes data that signatories of that program provide on a yearly basis. The same will be done for the recently launched U.S. Food Waste Pact, which will scale the collection of food business data nationally. The tools in the Insights Engine are used by a variety of stakeholders – from solution providers to policymakers – and to keep up with new incoming data, the Data & Insights team updates the model that the Insights Engine runs on, most recently at the end of 2023.
“Collecting and integrating the new data is one thing, and then we take the new results, compare them to previous releases, and figure out what it all means,” explains Minnie. “Are we making progress toward the 2030 goal? Are emissions from food waste being reduced? How do the limitations in the data or modeling influence the conclusions we can or can’t draw? And then on a practical level, how do we best publicize and visualize all the new information?” Answering these questions is critical to the work of the Data & Insights team, and as Manager of Climate & Insights, Minnie has a unique take on what these numbers mean to stakeholders across sectors.
“Reducing food waste should be a part of a larger conversation about how we make food systems more equitable, flexible, resilient, responsive, and efficient,” says Minnie. “Addressing food waste is an opportunity to reduce emissions and save money, but also to address food insecurity and poor nutrition, to redirect income and funding, to make better use of scarce resources, to encourage innovation and circularity. I’m really invigorated by all the opportunities for multidisciplinary collaboration.”
Ultimately, this is how Minnie embodies her role on the ReFED team. Food waste is a global problem that affects the climate, the economy, and our health. Her work to refine our definitions and recalculate numbers in our model provides a foundation for any stakeholder to start reducing food waste in the way that best speaks to their business, organization, or household.
And while the numbers will evolve and our analyses will grow more complex, Minnie has some pretty actionable advice on how we can apply global principles of circularity to reduce food waste in our own lives in the meantime: “Composting has so many benefits, and it’s the best option for shells and orange peels and those few leaves of spinach that are determined to go slimy. But for everything else, it’s so much more powerful for people to simply buy less and eat their leftovers. Make the circle smaller.”
More ReFED Profiles: