Food waste is a critical global challenge. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, approximately 40% of food in the United States — or more than 125 billion pounds each year — is thrown out, and food is the primary contributor to landfills. When food goes to waste, so does the water, soil, fertilizer, and labor that went into producing it. At the same time, food insecurity affects an estimated one out of eight Americans, according to Feeding America.
At Comcast NBCUniversal, we have set a long-term, aspirational goal of becoming a zero waste company — and that includes food waste. Throughout our operations, we are conserving resources by being mindful of what we use and how we use it. And we have strategies in place to manage the waste we do create.
A Focus on Food Waste
Our attention to food waste may surprise some. But our operations and facilities feed thousands and thousands of people every day — at our theme parks, our numerous TV and film production sets, and our various employee cafeterias, as well as through Spectra, a company in which Comcast holds a minority ownership stake that manages food service operations at more than 240 sporting and event venues across North America.
At our Universal Orlando theme park, Chef Steve Jayson, Vice President and Corporate Chef for Universal Parks & Resorts, works to plan meals for tens of thousands of hungry guests every day at more than 200 dining destinations — all while reducing food waste.
“A chef tries to make use of every part of a chicken, or salmon, or a piece of fruit,” says Jayson. “That’s sustainability in its own way.”
In 2018, we conducted waste studies at our Universal Orlando and Universal Studio Hollywood theme parks and several other areas of our business. These studies have helped us better understand our waste streams, so we can create more effective recycling and composting programs and ultimately reduce the overall amount sent to landfill.
According to Jayson, reducing food waste at our theme parks starts with planning ahead, based on attendance forecasts that are shared with him several weeks in advance, so we use only what we need. Food scraps created during meal preparation are composted for use as fertilizer or sent to an anaerobic digestion facility, which converts them to energy. Aggressive programs at both Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando Resort resulted in diverting more than 5,800 tons of food and compostable paper-based products from landfills in 2018.
At many of our locations, we donate edible leftovers to the local community. At our employee cafeterias across the Comcast Center Campus in Philadelphia, excess food is given to local hunger-relief organizations through an app-based service called Food Connect. More than 10,000 pounds of food is donated annually from our NBCUniversal employee commissaries at Universal City Studios, DreamWorks Animation, and 30 Rockefeller Center. And in 2018 alone, 54 NBCUniversal film and television productions in 13 cities around the world donated more than 43,300 pounds of excess food from set. That’s approximately 36,160 meals fed to people in need.
In 2018, we began taking a detailed look at the waste we produce at our Comcast Center Campus in Philadelphia, including food waste, and launched pilot programs to reduce the overall tonnage and divert more waste from landfill. As part of this effort, we’re changing our café operations to include more reusable (vs. single-use) options for items such as cutlery, taking waste out of the business. And we’re now refining the pilots to educate employees about how to better sort waste so that, for instance, nonrecyclables do not end up in recycling bins.
“Sorting waste is really tricky, so the pilots are helping my team and me understand how to make a difference day to day,” says Marie Lanzalotti, Senior Manager, Customer Experience Technologies at Comcast.
These efforts complement other waste-reduction activities already taking place. For example, our new Comcast Technology Center has a state-of-the-art anaerobic digester for food waste, and our campus cafés are moving to a “by request” model for all takeaway containers.
Beyond Food: From Cables and Splitters to Halloween Props
Of course, reducing food-related waste is just one aspect of our zero waste efforts. Throughout our operations, we encourage a culture of waste reduction and recycling.
Comcast’s National Recycling Program has recycled or diverted from landfill more than 51.7 million pounds of cable equipment waste since 2014. Through this program technicians use color-coded bins to conveniently sort recyclable materials such as taps, splitters, cords, cables, batteries, and cardboard.