Replate addresses both hunger and climate change
Replate uses a web-based app that allows donors, such as restaurants, tech companies, vendors and distributors, to sign up and schedule one-time or recurring food pickups to redistribute to homeless shelters and other nonprofits. (Photo by Jen Fedrizzi)
Growing up in Syria, Maen Mahfoud’s mother would not let him or his older brother eat their lunches until they biked around their neighborhood and delivered free meals to neighbors, construction workers and others in need. The sweltering heat and exhaustion from pedaling on an empty stomach annoyed Mahfoud, but the experience also made him conscious that some people lacked basic access to food.
Upon moving to the U.S. to attend the University of California at Berkeley, Mahfoud was shocked to see the number of people facing hunger in the Bay Area.
“There’s a tremendous amount of businesses and wealth, but at the same time there’s a tremendous amount of need,” said Mahfoud.
Channeling his childhood food runs, Mahfoud began collecting food leftover from local company meetings and other events. He then worked with homeless shelters and other nonprofits to determine which surrounding communities would benefit from the surpluses. In 2016, Mahfoud founded Replate, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that manages food donations by matching organizations and businesses with the appropriate nonprofits.
Though Mahfoud focused on food insecurity, Replate now also promotes climate action.
This comes as businesses in The City inch toward zero-waste status and meet goals being set through ordinances such as SB 1383, a statewide measure that cuts down on the amount of waste ending up in landfills.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food loss and waste accounts for 170 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas emissions, roughly the annual CO2 emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants. Much of that comes from emissions, such as garbage trucks and other devices used in handling food waste. The estimate does not include significant methane emissions from food rotting in landfills.
Replate uses a web-based app that allows donors — ranging from restaurants and tech companies to vendors and distributors — to sign up and schedule one-time or recurring food pickups. Once set up, drivers known as “food rescuers,” a mix of certified volunteers, contractors and part-time employees, are dispatched and the redistribution process begins.
Donors can track their contributions from the moment they are loaded onto refrigerated vans to the minute their food gets dropped off.
Replate issues sustainability reports that let clients see how many pounds of food were recovered, the number of meals created and the amount carbon dioxide diverted. “It’s a very seamless process,” said Mahfoud.
Workers are required to have a food handler’s license and maintain hygienic practices, such as wearing gloves, while on duty. Depending on the type of food, Replate helps donors and recipients determine if they have the proper and sanitary storage for their surpluses.
The donations allowed nonprofits like Youth Spirit Artworks, which uses art and job training to help older homeless and low-income youth, to serve vulnerable communities.
“When we opened our housing program, we were trying to source food for everybody, trying to get donations from different pantries and food distributions,” said Jillian de la Torre, a YSA case manager and tiny home project coordinator.
Since YSA and its donors have had refrigeration on both sites, the nonprofit has redistributed meals like paninis, burgers and salads.
When the nonprofit opened its housing program, Replate helped YSA source meals for its residents. “That helped us out a lot when we were first opening our village. It helped us to keep everybody fed,” said de la Torre.
Though Replate has expanded to roughly 500 major cities, including Los Angeles and New York City, San Francisco remains its biggest market. Mahfoud attributes this established presence to local roots and existing zero-waste policies.
While The City has been seen as a leading figure in the fight against climate change, the rest of California is beginning to adopt similar approaches. In 2016, the state passed California’s Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction law, otherwise known as SB 1383. The measure sets goals for a 20% or greater recovery of edible food currently disposed of in California by 2025 and a reduction in the disposal of organic waste in landfills, by 75% by January 1, 2025.
Businesses that generate food waste are grouped into Tier 1 and Tier 2 classifications. SB 1383 took effect this past January for Tier 1 members, which include wholesale food vendors, food service providers, distributors and grocery stores of more than 10,000 square feet. The ordinance will not go into effect for Tier 2 members, such as hotels and restaurants with more than 250 seats, until January 1, 2024.
Hilary Near, a commercial zero-waste analyst for the San Francisco Department of the Environment, said, “We’re in a good position, I would say, because although there’s always opportunities and gaps, there is an existing infrastructure to plug into.” Near added that “there is an opportunity with SB 1383, to bring (the promotion of composting) back into the present and to reiterate this statewide commitment to feed people before the soils,” she said.
Tier 1 members are required to have a written agreement with food recovery organizations and they must maintain records of the type, frequency and pounds of food recovered each month.
Agencies, such as CalRecycle, offer implementation checklists, training and guidance that food donors can follow to be deemed compliant. Violations of these requirements incur fines, which range from $500 to $10,000.
Locally the Department of the Environment has been matching food donors and recipients based on the scale of their operation as well as the frequency with which they donate surpluses. Alternately, the department has assisted nonprofits like Replate in obtaining key funding through grants.
As the infrastructure for food recovery ramps up, Mahfoud wants others to act on an innate desire of wanting to do the right thing. “If you talk to a lot of people, they all want to do good and they all want to do amazing stuff but you gotta give them the right tools to do it,” he said.
Maen Mahfoud founded Replate in 2016 by drawing on his experience of delivering free meals to neighbors and those in need while growing up in Syria. (Courtesy photo)
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