Blog Post

According to Project Bread’s 2016 status report, nearly 10 percent of Massachusetts families, or more than 266,000 households, experience food insecurity. The staggering amount of edible food that is thrown away daily is a lost opportunity to combat chronic hunger. The PBS NewsHour recently reported on the food donation program at Harvard University, where student volunteers are taking action against hunger by partnering with the local food rescue non-profit, Food for Free, to donate excess cafeteria food that would otherwise go to waste. The largely volunteer-driven Food for Free was founded in 1981, and has grown to connect surplus food to over 100 food programs, distributing approximately 2 million pounds of food to over 30,000 people in 2017.

Harvard’s 13 undergraduate dining halls serve approximately 20,000 meals a day and, though the dining services work hard to monitor food consumption, it is nearly impossible to predict how much food students will eat at a given meal. In 2014, Harvard University Dining Services partnered with Food for Free to establish an initiative that would repackage leftover food for donation. Each week, the university may donate as much as 1200 pounds of quality food that is repackaged into microwavable frozen meals. For their efforts, Harvard University Dining Services and Food for Free received the 2017 Visionary Award from the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.

The process is simple:

  • At the end of a meal period, student volunteers gather excess food items that cannot be reused in subsequent meals, seal and label the items in a plastic bag, and place the packages in a freezer.
  • At the end of each service day, the dining halls document the weight and items which were saved for donation.
  • Food for Free then visits the locations several times a week to collect the frozen food and redistributes it to their network of food programs.

This model is easily replicable for many institutions and businesses. There is often no fee to work with food rescue organizations, and food donation programs can have tax incentives and reduce disposal costs. The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (42 U.S.C. § 1791) encourages food donations by providing liability protections for businesses that donate ‘apparently wholesome’ food in ‘good faith’ to nonprofit organizations. RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts (RecyclingWorks) developed a comprehensive guide for commercial food donation, including strategies for establishing a program, and additional resources to find a partner food rescue organization. The RecyclingWorks Food Donation Programs Case Study provides an overview of the process the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel and Whole Foods Market in Medford took to build a program that successfully diverts quality food from disposal and provides it to people in need.

RecyclingWorks assists businesses and institutions with reuse, recycling, and food waste diversion. We specialize in all forms of food recovery, from source reduction and donating surplus food to source separation of food scraps. To speak to a food waste diversion expert, connect with a food donation organization, or learn more about our no-cost technical assistance services, call the RecyclingWorks hotline: (888) 254-5525 or email us at