Departamento del Medio Ambiente de San Francisco

Getting Food out of the Waste Stream and Into Hungry Households—Where It Belongs

When food gets thrown out, we waste more than nutrients and calories. We waste the resources it took to produce that apple, carrot, or loaf of bread—from the water it took to grow, to the energy it took to harvest, package, transport, and sell.

In San Francisco, some of what is sent to the landfill or put in the green compost bin is perfectly good food, yet thousands of San Franciscans lack access to fresh food and adequate meals. So when San Francisco works toward achieving zero waste, the community is also tackling the vital issues of food insecurity and access.

During San Francisco’s first-ever Month of Climate Action, the San Francisco Department of the Environment (SF Environment) partnered with food pantries across San Francisco that recover and re-distribute food that would have been thrown out. Neighborhood food pantries serve a vital role in San Francisco’s waste recovery ecosystem and in the lives of San Franciscans struggling with food insecurity.

Groceries for Seniors is a small organization making a big impact on food recovery. Each week the organization distributes bags of nutritious fresh food to senior citizens in San Francisco.

"Last year we distributed a thousand bags of groceries each week," said Steven Harrison from Groceries for Seniors. "Each of the bags we donate weighs around 15-20 pounds, meaning we donate close to 80,000 pounds of food each year. These donations make a direct impact on the lives of thousands of seniors and their families. Without our help, many of our elderly neighbors would go hungry."

Working collaboratively with food pantry staff, and with a helping hand from Environment Commissioners Eddie Ahn, Elmy Bermejo and Sarah Wan, SF Environment distributed food to over 950 residents at seven neighborhood food pantries. In addition to bulk food items and prepared food, pantry visitors also received a reusable cloth tote bag to carry their food home in, plus helpful information on how to compost their leftovers and recycle.

Volunteering at local food pantries gave SF Environment team members the opportunity not only to give back to the community, but to demonstrate the connection between food recovery, zero waste, and equity. "It was really great to work with these diverse organizations and support the work that they are already doing, all while helping to meet our zero waste goals," said Cara Gurney, Senior Engagement Coordinator at the Department. "We had a great experience connecting with residents and community organizations across San Francisco and hope to build and continue these kinds of partnerships moving forward."

Special thanks to the SF-Marin Food Bank, which sources and distributes food to the local food pantries served.

Take action: Volunteer with these local food pantries!

Visit their websites for more information on volunteer days and hours:

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