Optimizing Food Waste Recovery through Algorithms, with Maen Mahfoud

Image: Aids distribute canned food as part of a food bank hosted by the Delaware National Guard in 2020. Replate’s platform makes it easier for businesses to donate to nonprofit organizations like food banks. Image by: US Army National Guard

Audio Editing by: Alexandra Jade Garcia Blurb by: Amanda Neslund Script by: Jericho Rajninjer

Food Waste is a Global Problem with a Big Carbon Footprint. 

One-third of all food produced is wasted every year – approximately 1.3 billion tons. The UN Environment Program estimates that 3.3 billion tons of CO2 are emitted annually from the resources used to produce wasted food. In the United States alone, 133 billion pounds of edible food, valued at $161 billion, is wasted every year. 

Replate’s Solution

Enter Replate: a technology-based nonprofit that works to reduce food insecurity and waste while mitigating food waste´s effects on climate change. The organization provides a solution for businesses to donate surplus food to nearby nonprofits operating throughout the United States and the Middle East. Replate’s services are designed to prevent such food waste through source reduction and donating meals to communities experiencing food insecurity. Its algorithm connects donor organizations to nonprofits, diverting food from landfills while increasing food access. 

How Replate Works

Their organization operates through a web app. Donors can schedule pick-up services, then track the environmental and social impact of their donations. Nonprofits can sign up to receive donations using an online form. Replate then works to understand these organizations’ capacity and food needs before drop off. Replate works with hundreds of corporations including Netflix, Boston Consulting Group, Whole Foods, Chipotle, Walmart, and more to match businesses with communities in need. Since its founding, Replate has recovered over 3.6 million pounds of food, delivered over three million meals, and served 301 nonprofits. It estimates that to date the program has saved 985 million gallons of water and diverted 3,686 tons of carbon emissions.

Connections to California Composting Goals

As organic material like food and agricultural waste decomposes, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas eighty-four times more potent than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over a 20-year period. Enacted in January 2022, California’s Short-Lived Pollutant Reduction law SB-1383 targets is trying to address methane emissions due to organic waste. SB-1383 is expected to reduce California’s methane emissions from organic materials in traditional landfills by an estimated twenty percent. As part of the law, large food service providers, distributors, and industries falling under the Tier 1 category—food service providers, food distributors, wholesale food vendors, supermarkets and grocery stores over 10,000 square feet—are required to reduce their organic waste material disposal. Platforms like Replate can help businesses reduce their food waste and comply with SB-1383. 

Maen Mahfoud is the founder and CEO of Replate. Witnessing the alarming levels of food insecurity, and enormous amounts of food waste in the Bay Area, his knowledge of the massive effects of food waste on our planet motivated Mahfoud to launch Replate in 2016. Maen is a DRK entrepreneur, a 2023 recipient of the James Irvine Foundation Leadership, and was sponsored by Harvard Business School’s Executive Program. Mahfoud holds a Master’s in Public Health from Imperial College London, a degree in Molecular Biology from UC Berkeley, and a Human-Computer Interaction for User Experience Design Certificate from MIT. 



Ethan: I’m Ethan Elkind, and you’re listening to Climate Break: climate solutions in a hurry. Today’s proposal? Connecting businesses with surplus food to people who need it. Maen Mahfoud is founder of Replate, a nonprofit helping to close the loop on food waste.

Maen Mahfoud:  Growing up in the Middle East my mom used to always cook so much food and ask my brother and I to go on our bikes and check on our neighbors to see if we have a neighbor who’s feeling under the weather or they’re struggling or they need food. It was like a daily routine.

Ethan: Businesses in the United States waste 66 billion pounds of food each year. This food decomposes in landfills, where it emits harmful greenhouse gasses and squanders the resources that produced it. With Replate, Mahfoud has switched out his bike for a scalable system helping businesses track surplus food and distribute it to nearby nonprofits.

Maen Mahfoud:  You request a pick up on demand or schedule a recurrent weekly pickup. A food rescuer, or a driver comes in your way. And recover the food. And instead of going to the landfill, it gets matched to a nonprofit or community partner that can utilize the food and distribute it to communities in need.

Ethan: Mahfoud says the process is designed to be as easy and efficient as possible.

Maen Mahfoud:  Instead of just calling certain entities or trying to figure out if a nonprofit would take it, we created a matching algorithm that helps us connect the right food to the right nonprofit at the right time. The more food donors we onboard and the more nonprofits we onboard, then the matching becomes even more efficient.

Ethan: Last year, a California law took effect requiring food-producing businesses, like grocery stores and restaurants, to donate extra food. The law is the first of its kind…and Replate offers one solution to help implement it that could inspire similar legislation nationwide. To learn more about the climate impact of food waste and efforts to reduce it, visit climatebreak.org.

Optimizing Food Waste Recovery through Algorithms, with Maen Mahfoud