Working with caterers and other food businesses, Phoenix-based Waste Not makes sure excess meals go to people in need
By Sara Perez Webber
Long before “sustainability” became a common goal and corporate buzzword, Waste Not has been putting it into practice.
The Phoenix-based nonprofit—celebrating its 35th anniversary—works to solve the problem of wasted food. Each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States discards more food than any other country in the world—nearly 40 million tons, with food taking up more space in U.S. landfills than anything else.
At the same time, according to Waste Not, nearly 1 million people in Arizona struggle with food insecurity. Waste Not combats this disconnect in the Phoenix area, collecting fresh excess food donations from businesses such as catering companies, resorts and event venues, and delivering that food to nonprofits who provide critical community services, such as housing and employment assistance. Last year, Waste Not rescued nearly 3.45 million pounds of food.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to caterers or venue chefs who are so relieved when they find us,” says Hillary Bryant, Waste Not’s newly appointed executive director. “They absolutely hate seeing their perfectly edible food get thrown in the trash.”
Working with about 120 food businesses in the last two-and-a-half years, Waste Not delivers food to about 75 nonprofit partners, such as homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters and food pantries. It accepts prepared and perishable food—such as pans of chicken and rice left over from events—as well as prepackaged foods.
Waste Not has its own fleet of five delivery trucks with professional drivers, which are deployed for large pickups. Foodservice businesses can donate smaller amounts of food using Feeding America’s MealConnect app. After a business posts details about its excess food to the app, the donation will be matched to a nonprofit, and one of Waste Not’s 100-plus volunteers will pick it up and deliver it. Waste Not is one of the top five users of MealConnect, which is available in cities in all 50 states.
Phoenix-based catering company Atlasta has been working with Waste Not for over 15 years. Waste Not sends trucks to Atlasta’s facilities about three times a week to collect excess food. “We repack the food as if we are sending it back out [to an event],” says Steve Short, Atlasta’s COO. “It’s garnished, presented in pans, labeled and ready to go into the oven. We are working hard to save people’s dignity.”
Short says Waste Not “is a very integral part of our business,” which is guided by a zero-landfill policy—ensuring that its events result in zero waste. Atlasta has been focused on sustainability for 20 years, says Short, and Waste Not “was the missing piece we had to find to get us to a zero-landfill approach.”
Another Phoenix catering company, M Culinary Concepts, has been donating excess food to Waste Not for years from a huge event it caters annually—the weeklong WM Phoenix Open golf tournament. “The volume donated has been around 20,000 pounds a year,” says Jon Clancy, M Culinary’s director of culinary operations, who adds that the company continues to donate to Waste Not throughout the year.
After recently partnering with United Food Bank, Waste Not is positioned for even more growth, says Bryant: “We’d like to see volunteer numbers increase, and to make sure edible excess food doesn’t make it to the landfill—ever.”