Mar 15, 2021 - News

Polk County's revolutionary investment to cut down on food waste

Illustration of a fried chicken bucket filled with vegetables and wheat.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Polk County is testing food recovery software to help eliminate massive waste from places like restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores, Tony Jefferson, the county's IT director, recently told supervisors.

Why it matters: Beyond the obvious ongoing need in our communities, there are important environmental and tax advantages associated with saving food that can give our businesses a lift.

The backdrop: One of the challenges our charitable organizations face is how to make food collection and distribution more efficient and equitable.

  • Multiple agencies independently coordinate food donations but that can lead to opportunities not being fully utilized and salvageable food going to waste.
  • The county agreed about a year ago to dedicate IT staff to create software to resolve the problems.

How it works: The software alerts charitable groups to things like soon-to-expire packaged foods that are redistributed to places like affordable housing communities, schools, homeless shelters and food banks.

  • It also allows groups to coordinate drivers and share equipment like refrigerated trucks.
  • Polk has invested several hundred hours of staff time to the project but actual costs to this point are minimal, Jefferson told Jason on Friday.
  • There will be a small user fee to cover the expenses, but the software will remain a breakeven endeavor intended for community betterment.

By the numbers: Only about 25% of still-good food is currently being collected, according to Eat Greater Des Moines (EGDM) — a nonprofit assisting with the software development.

  • Food waste makes up 20% of what Iowa takes to the landfill, a percentage that has increased over the last two decades, according to the Iowa DNR’s latest waste study.

What’s next: Six to eight groups are testing the software now. It will open to other groups and donors as early as this summer.

This story first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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