NRG's Vehicle Donation Drives Circular Economy

Feb 9, 2017 8:30 AM ET

Posted from NRG Power Perspectives

by Kyle Williams

This is a guest blog, authored by Kyle Williams, Food Bank Director, Mercer Street Friends Food Bank 

From creating a more sustainable world to shrinking our carbon footprint; conservation and re-thinking waste are central to making our community and our planet, a cleaner and safer place to live. Recently, I partnered with the greater Trenton community to bring the circular economy to Mercer Street Friends, Mercer County’s only food bank.

I have always had a strong desire to help people and now I have the ability to effect positive change through my position as a Director at Mercer Street Friends. The food bank I serve delivers roughly 2.7 million pounds of food and groceries annually to a network of more than 80 local food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens, meal sites, schools, senior and disabled programs and low-income housing sites. This work supports over 30,000 individuals who face the pain and indignity of hunger each year. The work we’re doing has the ability to make a huge impact on the community and there’s always room to do more.  

Over the last several years, we’ve built relationships with local grocers to pick up produce that’s not exactly shelf-ready – bruised or misshapen fruits and veggies might not be ideal for store display, but they’re just as nutritious as their attractive counterparts – because of these partnerships, we are able to provide our patrons with significantly more fresh produce options that we otherwise would not have been able to offer. As an unintended byproduct, we’ve also increased our food-waste as the shelf-life of produce isn’t very long.  

Food waste is a huge global issue, and we and our grocer-partners are scrambling to find solutions. I quickly determined that composting is the solution to our problem. Our ability to do so was limited until NRG donated a new truck to help our efforts. This donation literally changed the entire operation. With this additional resource, we were able to increase the grocer and farm locations we visit to over 100 from just 35. As a result, we increased the amount of food we picked up by 500,000 pounds.

With our enhanced ability to transport even more food, we were able to pilot a composting program with a new local partner, The Princeton Theological Seminary, not far from Mercer Street Friends. This “Farminary” is a 21 acre farm that educates young people about farming and gives their crops to locals, including the food bank. More than just farming, they have a large composting operation and became a logical recipient of the spoiled produce we so desperately needed to address. The farm began using the compost we were able to provide, and this season, the compost helped increase their yield by over 20,000 pounds of food per year.

I am particularly inspired by this small but impactful example of what happens when businesses and their surrounding communities work together. Individually, each participant wins – fresh fruits and veggies for the food bank, reduced waste for grocers, and improved yield for farmers. Of course, there is still more room to grow, but this proves that when we rethink and repurpose waste, positive outcomes are right around the corner. In the spring of 2017, we welcome you to join us for a tour of the composting project to see first-hand the positive outcomes we’re sharing with the larger Trenton community.