Technology Meets Food Waste and Food Insecurity

Replate, a tech-based nonprofit, helps NYC businesses after a recent citywide law requires certain vendors to recycle food scraps and organic waste

| 21 Sep 2022 | 12:47

Replate is bridging the gap between food waste and food insecurity by simultaneously addressing both issues. The innovative nonprofit uses data and artificial intelligence to recover edible surplus food from businesses, restaurants, caterers, farmers’ markets and other vendors. Through their efficient pickup and delivery service, they redistribute food to local community organizations working with those experiencing food insecurity.

Since the company launched in 2016, they have recovered over 3.29 million pounds of food and distributed 2.75 million meals to communities. They have also aided the environment by saving over 902 million gallons of water and averting nearly 3,377 tons of climate-warming carbon dioxide.

Replate has both a national and global reach working with companies like Door Dash, Chipotle and Netflix. New York City is one of their biggest markets, where Replate works with businesses and catering companies like Five Guys, Bento Box, Eko, Dig Feeds, Platterz NYC, Poppy’s Catering and others.

They connect food to community organizations such as Project Rousseau, Covenant House, Bowery Mission, and Harlem Grown. They have also partnered with start-ups like Fraiche, a company that places fridges in corporate offices with sustainable meals made by local chefs, to collect leftover items.

Food waste is a major issue facing New York City. In January 2022, New York State passed a Food Donation and Food Scraps Recycling Law which requires businesses that generate an annual average of two tons of wasted food per week or more to donate excess edible food and recycle food scraps. After a two-year pandemic pause on the citywide Commercial Organics Requirements, this summer The New York Department of Sanitation started requiring food-related businesses that meet certain requirements to start recycling their food scraps and other organic waste.

Replate is helping Manhattan businesses recycle excess food and connect with their community in the process. Our Town spoke to Replate’s Founder and CEO Maen Mahfoud about the creation of the company, how Replate’s technology can increase efficiency and how the system would work on a larger scale. The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

What was the inspiration behind Replate?

Growing up in Syria, my mom used to cook my older brother and me huge lunches. Before anyone touched the food, she would ask us to get on our bikes and distribute some of that food to our community. We brought meals to our neighbors who were facing challenges or had partners outside of the country.

Later in life, I immigrated to the United States and was devastated by the level of food insecurity here. It was extremely frustrating to see someone in San Francisco digging in a trash can, looking for a bite to eat. I thought of my childhood. Here, we have companies that deliver cookies directly to your home in less than twenty minutes, why can’t we figure this out?

I began moving food from campuses, dining centers, and local restaurants and delivering to shelters, soup kitchens, and encampments. Later, I connected this with the environmental benefit of recovering food and Replate was born.

In what ways can Replate help businesses in New York City make their waste management systems more efficient?

Through Replate’s tech-driven platform, partners can track and understand the impact of donations: water saved, CO2 diverted, meals created for the community, and analyze waste patterns. This enables them to make better decisions about ordering meals and move towards source reduction. It also engages with their employees and demonstrates corporate social responsibility and community impact.

The tech side of Replate has been a major part of connecting surplus food to community organizations as well as tracking impact. How is the company making this process accessible to people who might be hesitant about navigating new technology?

Replate aims to make it as easy to donate food as it is to throw it away. Our technology is simple to use – food can be scheduled for donation within a few clicks. From there, Replate manages the entire process, and data is stored and illustrated colorfully on our clients’ dashboard.

Technology has the potential to be incredibly impactful in a positive way and Replate is giving businesses the right tools to directly reduce their food waste. Replate is also one of the most scalable food rescue platforms out there, as the dashboard is data-driven and can be implemented in any market. It’s also great for reporting. Whether that’s to local governments, key investors, or internal communications, our platform provides important metrics which allow clients to engage with their stakeholders on sustainability, environmental and social impact numbers.

Right now, people opt into the system, but would this be able to work on a larger scale? For example, if there was legislation in NYC that required businesses and restaurants to use this system?

Yes, we’re seeing it happen right now in California with SB 1383. [The statewide legislation was rolled out in January 2022, which mandates organic waste collection services for residents and businesses.] Businesses are required to have a food recovery partner and donate edible food. They’re required to report their donations to the government. We absolutely envision this becoming a trend across the country.

Another way Replate is making it more of an opt-out service is by partnering with catering companies that provide food for offices and events. In this way, Replate comes with the deal. Our goal is to reframe how people think about donating food. It should be as ubiquitous as recycling and an assumed part of the process.

Is there anything else you would like New Yorkers to know about Replate?

Replate envisions a world where nothing expires. Food waste, food insecurity, and food justice all go hand in hand. Each year, an estimated one-third of all food produced ends up rotting in the trash of consumers and retailers or spoiling due to poor transportation and harvesting practices. This problem is universal, and we believe Replate is a great solution.