Collaboration Takes Center Stage At 2024 ReFED Food Waste Solutions Summit

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Collaboration Takes Center Stage At 2024 ReFED Food Waste Solutions Summit

June 26, 2024

A lot has happened in the food waste movement since last year’s Summit in St. Louis. From the EPA’s new Wasted Food Scale to the launch of the U.S. Food Waste Pact to UNEP’s Food Waste Index Report, we’ve seen significant progress in the growing awareness of food waste as a climate solution—and how valuable collaboration is in making change happen.

The 2024 ReFED Food Waste Solutions Summit took place in Baltimore June 11-13, and it proved to be our most important convening of this scale to date. Whether it was through mainstage presentations, smaller topical sessions, or one-on-one conversations during a networking break, one thing became clear before the Summit even concluded: Progress is happening, and collaboration is accelerating it. And as ReFED’s Dana Gunders said during her welcoming remarks, it is the work of the attendees in the audience that demonstrates where “the rubber is meeting the road.”

One of the biggest examples of progress came on the second day of the Summit when Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack of the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the National Strategy for Reducing Food Loss and Waste and Recycling Organics, the first policy plan of its kind for the United States. In his announcement, Secretary Vilsack emphasized the importance of collaboration, saying that food waste is “an issue that ought to bring all of us together.” That was reflected within the plan itself, which documents several strategies that are to be carried out by multiple federal agencies in collaboration with other partners. ReFED’s Dana Gunders noted that the plan was “a good first step,” and while more attention and funding still needs to be committed, most of the attendees agreed that the release of this plan is a huge milestone for not only the food waste movement in the United States, but—with the addition of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to the existing federal interagency collaboration on food waste between EPA, FDA, and USDA—for the larger global one as well.

Another topic that was woven into several sessions and presentations throughout the Summit was artificial intelligence and its potential impact on the fight against food waste. Like many sectors, ours is one that is eager to learn how AI might be harnessed to help reduce food waste throughout the food supply chain. A mainstage chat between ReFED’s Asch Harwood and The Spoon’s Michael Wolf discussed the importance of collecting data more efficiently and effectively to build more robust models to help with forecasting, demand planning, and pricing, work that’s been taking off in the retail sector. And yet while progress is already being made, the future of AI and food waste is still in its infancy, priming next year to show even more progress and collaboration.

Beyond being foundational for artificial intelligence impact, data is one of the cornerstones of the Summit and ReFED’s work as a whole. Data is what drives change—something we’ve seen recently in the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment’s recent report tracking reductions in food waste at retail. At the Summit, several food businesses, including Flashfood and Mill, released or previewed studies and insights about their own initiatives, as well as food waste trends in their sectors, which help shine more light on a problem that’s frequently seen as invisible.

A focus on slashing methane emissions as a climate strategy was identified by ReFED’s Dana Gunders during her welcoming remarks as a key reason for the continued growth of interest in food waste reduction among a range of stakeholders. On the heels of the U.S.-China Sunnylands Statement and the U.S. State Department’s LOW-Methane Initiative, the conversations about methane at the Summit were urgent. Though food waste contributes to the whole greenhouse gas picture, methane is highly potent in the short term, and 58% of methane emissions from landfills come from food waste. In a breakout session, the Global Methane Hub gave insight into their work with ReFED on the upcoming expansion of ReFED’s Insights Engine Impact Calculator to include more data on methane impacts.

This year’s Summit also saw the introduction of a series of Solution Provider Showcases—four different sessions featuring multiple solution providers pitching their solutions to a panel of funders, who were able to ask questions about technology, innovation, scaling potential, and more, before ultimately deciding on a winner for each session. These showcases were another example of the rubber meeting the road with real action that can lead to measurable results.

These highlights from the Summit show progress and demonstrate the importance of collaboration, but they're just the tip of the iceberg. This year’s Summit had more partner meetings, networking opportunities, and more attendees than ever before. Whether it’s through formal partnerships or informal conversations, collaboration is the foundation for scaling food waste solutions. Solution providers need to be connected to funders. Policymakers need to be connected to those working in the food supply chain. And with the 2024 Summit completed, we're able to see how impactful this yearly convening is in making progress on food waste reduction.


We'll be announcing the dates and location of the 2025 ReFED Food Waste Solutions Summit later this summer. Make sure you're on our mailing list to be one of the first to get the details!

ReFED is a national nonprofit working to end food loss and waste across the food system by advancing data-driven solutions to the problem. ReFED leverages data and insights to highlight supply chain inefficiencies and economic opportunities; mobilizes and connects people to take targeted action; and catalyzes capital to spur innovation and scale high-impact initiatives. ReFED’s goal is a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive food system that optimizes environmental resources, minimizes climate impacts, and makes the best use of the food we grow.

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