Cal Poly economics Professor Stephen Hamilton and a team of researchers recently received a nearly $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to study new solutions to the problem of food waste.
The team will investigate the viability of peer-to-peer distribution models to share, sell or exchange food to reduce the amount of food disposed in landfills as waste. Matching buyers and sellers in secondary markets for food has the potential to create greater efficiency in the supply chain. Major companies like Airbnb and Uber have popularized similar models, which are now considered part of an emerging “sharing economy.”
The team’s proposal, “Commercial Peer-to-peer Mutualization Systems to Eliminate Food Waste,” aims to reduce the 31 percent of food loss that the USDA estimates happens daily at the retail and consumer levels due to spoilage, mislabeling, seasonal surpluses and other factors. Unlike current solutions that only address food waste at the consumer level, Hamilton and his team will use new need-forecasting and product allocation methods at each step of the food supply chain, from farmer to food manufacturers, retailers and consumers.
Hamilton, along with co-authors Professor Tim Richards of Arizona State University and Professor Miguel Gómez of Cornell University, will use a combination of theoretical models, econometric evaluations and experiments to assess possible food waste solutions. The team plans to gather information from such research partners as Western Growers, CropMobster, a community exchange that addresses food waste and surpluses with online tools, and Cerplus, an online marketplace for surplus produce.
The grant is part of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which funds major agricultural discoveries, improve education and engage the public to address agricultural challenges.
Hamilton, chair of the Economics Area in the Orfalea College of Business, has taught at Cal Poly since 2004. He has secured more than $2 million in federal research grants since 2010. Throughout the last decade, Hamilton has consulted with numerous companies on land- and water-use issues and has published more than 50 peer-reviewed articles on food, sustainability and natural resources in leading journals including Health Economics and the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics. He has served as associate editor for the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management and the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.