Measuring Food Waste 

Some grocery stores throw away tons of edible food, while others do a great job donating it or selling food that's past its sell-by date at a discount. See our scorecard.

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But more needs to be done to institutionalize surplus food donation. With the exception of the national chains that have an agreement with Feeding America, participation in food rescue programs often hinges on the altruism of a store manager or whoever takes out the trash at the end of the night. If that person doesn't want to intervene, the food just gets wasted.

And volunteer labor can only go so far in powering grocery rescue. "The member agencies that go in and pick up [rescue food] truly need volunteers to help build those relationships and to get on a consistent donation pick-up schedule. They need people to become drivers, volunteers at their locations to sort through the food, and they need financial donations to help buy refrigerators and freezers for storage," Coberg said.

Frasz of FoodShift sees a future in which food recovery becomes another municipal utility, funded by taxpayers or made into a viable business. "We pay for recycling and compost services now," she said. "So we could certainly pay people to redistribute food. Just a small amount of investment in food recovery would make it safer and more professional."

Of course that would leave people like Yotam without the dumpster bounty they've come to rely on. "But that would be great," he said. "I pray every time I go out that the dumpsters will be empty and that I won't find anything." So far, that has never happened. 

Correction: The original version of this story mistakenly stated that Berkeley Natural Grocery is on Shattuck Avenue, when, in fact, it is on Gilman Street. The author of the story also checked the store's dumpster on Gilman.

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