La Crosse groups work to repurpose tons of food waste

$1.6 billion of food is tossed in the trash each year

More than $1.6 billion  worth of food is tossed in the trash each year in the U.S.

Gundersen Health System has kept nearly 40,000 pounds of food out of the garbage in the past for years, thanks to a food waste tracking system, and the city of La Crosse is looking into a food waste reduction program. While both efforts are very different, each could keep potentially hundreds of thousands of pounds of local food from rotting in the ground.

Every day countless meals for staff, patients and visitors are made inside the Gundersen Health System kitchen.

“We do recipes and try to prepare the exact amount, but no matter what there are leftovers,” Thomas Sacksteder the executive chef at Gundersen Health System said.

To cut back on potential food waste, Sacksteder and other Gundersen employees weigh the food to pinpoint exactly how much is needed.

“From 2010 to 2014, we’ve actually reduced the amount of food waste by 83 percent,” Stacksteder said.

The rest of the food is donated to the Salvation Army.

“They come three times a week and pick it up on a regular basis, and less fortunate are able to utilize it,” Sacksteder said.

“It’s maybe just a day old, just two days old maybe, but it’s very fresh, very tasty,” Julie Nelson the director of public relations for the Salvation Army said.

The La Crosse Public Works Department is also looking into cutting back on the city’s food waste.

“How do we get to the point where everyone is more accountable for their generation of waste and we are relying less and less on landfills?” Dale Hexom, the director of Public Works said.

One of the ways officials are considering doing that is by collecting food waste in separate bins that would be composted and anaerobically digested.

“That anaerobic digestion then breaks down the food waste and produces, among other things methane gas, and that methane gas is an energy source,” Hexom said.

The energy could potentially be used to power Public Works facilities.

“Methane gas is a valuable commodity,” Hexom said.

Officials said the process is an environmentally and economically friendly way to deal with food waste. The citywide food waste service will likely become a reality in the next five to 10 years.