Photo: Project DASH

Much as restaurants may try to reduce their amount of food waste to cut costs, it’s nearly impossible for them to get to zero loss. Often, whatever perishable food is left at the end of the day — and doesn’t go home with employees — gets tossed in the trash.

That’s because the logistics of donating food is really tricky. In order to get leftovers to a local soup kitchen or hunger relief non-profit, they need someone to physically deliver the surplus food. Restaurants working off of already thin margins usually can’t afford to pay someone more money to do an extra task, especially if it’s cheaper just to chuck the leftovers in the trash.

That logistics disconnect is exactly what Project DASH (DoorDash Acts for Sustainability and Hunger) is trying to solve. Through Project DASH, DoorDash provides drivers that shuttle surplus food from restaurants and other businesses to hunger relief non-profits that have partnered with the third-party delivery service. The service is powered by Drive, DoorDash’s white-label fulfillment platform that lets organizations use the DoorDash fleet to deliver whatever they want, wherever they want. “Basically, DoorDash provides the logistics piece,” said DoorDash’s Head of Social Impact, Sueli Shaw, over the phone.

There are two ways for businesses to access Drive. They can either fill out the delivery details (starting point, endpoint, timing, etc.) via an online form, or they can integrate the Drive API into their own platform. DoorDash drivers will get food rescue assignments the same way they receive any other delivery job. They’ll get paid the same too. DoorDash provides in-kind grants to its nonprofit food rescue partners that cover the delivery fees.

Project DASH is currently partnered with about half a dozen food rescue organizations, including Copia and Replate, and operates in 20 states and 90 cities. Shaw said they just hit the mark of 1 million pounds of food saved so far. But the sky is the limit. “We could operate anywhere,” Shaw told me. DoorDash is currently available in 4,000 cities in the U.S. and Canada, and she said the only thing limiting Project DASH’s growth is the reach of their food rescue partners — which they’re looking to grow until they reach a “100 percent diversion rate” for surplus food.

Shaw said that DoorDash isn’t interested in developing its own food rescue branch internally. “There are a lot of initiatives right now in the space which have been around for a long time,” she told me. “I don’t want to compete — we can play a role in supporting them all.”

In my mind, Project DASH is a win-win. Helping reduce food waste and stop hunger is a good PR move for DoorDash, especially since the company has been getting a lot of flack lately for its controversial tipping policy (which it is now changing), and is hurtling towards an IPO. On the restaurant side, Project DASH provides an easy way to get rid of surplus food while providing an altruistic marketing angle.

Project DASH may be a smart PR strategy for DoorDash, but that doesn’t mean it’s not also a smart way to curb waste. It could be an effective piece of the food waste puzzle when used with end of day food discount services like Karma or Too Good To Go, as well as foodservice inventory management tools like Winnow.

Working together, these technologies could help restaurants get closer to the ever-elusive goal of zero food loss.

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