Zero Percent: A Great Solution for “Wasted” Food to Hungry People

by Lindsey Sharp for SUST 240

During the final year of his PhD studies, Rajesh Karmani discovered something unsettling. A native of Pakistan, Karmani was no stranger to food issues and starvation, but as a student in the more affluent Midwestern city of Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, Karmani was shocked to learn that food insecurity is a widespread problem in the US as well.

Sharp blog image

A map from the Greater Chicago Food Depository shows that parts of Cook County experience an estimated 30% – 50% rate of food insecurity.

In a video published by Sustainable America, the vastness of our food waste problem quickly becomes clear: 40% of the food produced in this country is not eaten, but instead contributes 16% of overall US methane emissions from waste rotting in a landfill. While these numbers indicate an abundance of unused and wasted food, approximately 49 million Americans are living in food-insecure households. Estimates from the Greater Chicago Food Depository alone state that approximately 1 out of every 6 Chicagoans turn to their network each year for food assistance.

It was in that gap between excess and access that Karmani sought change — if companies that end up with an excess of food, such as restaurants or distributors, could just be connected in a simple way with organizations that are in need of food, then the gap between waste and hunger could be narrowed.

Karmani put his background in computer science to great use and built Zero Percent, a Chicago-based food rescue service that redirects potential food waste to over 200 area nonprofits. Zero Percent couldn’t be simpler for it’s nearly 250 donors. After filling out a brief online form, donors are quickly contacted by a coordinator, who then dispatches a “Rescuer” to come pick up the donation at the donor’s convenience. Within four hours, those donations are in the hands of nonprofits who are then able to either distribute the food to or feed directly the members of our community who turn to them.

Organizations like Zero Percent are making it easy for almost anyone to make a positive change in Chicago’s food security landscape, which only underscores the importance of building creative solutions to bridge the gap between available resources and the people who need them most.

Each week during the Fall 2014 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 240 Waste online class at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts on urban and suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

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About Suburban Sustainability

Founder and editor of the Schaumburg's Sustainability Future social media project (est. Earth Day, 2011)
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