We’ve all cringed when we’ve thrown out that clamshell of wilted spinach we forgot in the back of the fridge, or that half loaf of moldy bread that we couldn’t quite finish in time. Other than some hard-earned dollars going to waste, how much of an impact could it really have? Turns out, alot.
In the United States alone, 35% of all food produced goes to waste. This loss is valued at $408B, the same amount of money the federal government spent on programs for children in 2019, or to put another way, almost ¼ the amount of the recent stimulus bill. This problem not only causes financial waste, but it also comprises 14% of water use and nearly 20% of our crop land.
Why is reducing food waste so important?
Reducing food from going to landfills is important for a variety of reasons:
It increases the availability of nutritious food to those in need: one in six Americans are food insecure. By limiting the amount of safe, nutritious food that goes to landfill or is left on farms, we are able to provide more foods to those in need through food banks and other food recovery organizations. If we cut food waste in half, it would generate 4 billion meals annually for our fellow Americans.
It addresses the climate crisis: by reducing food waste, we can help address the climate crisis. According to the EPA, 24% of our landfills are filled with food and organic waste. As this food rots in open air, it emits a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.
It saves money and creates jobs: when food waste is reduced and we have an efficient food chain that means better access to more affordable food. Through the expansion of recycling infrastructure and new food product development and other innovations, we can create 51,000 new jobs over the next decade.
What are the solutions to fix the problem?
● Prevention means avoiding wasting food from going to waste all together, including all of the water, fertilizer, labor, gas, money and other resources it takes to grow, process and transport food. Prevention solutions include things as simple as purchasing imperfect foods, standard date labels, using smaller plates and making smaller portions.
● Rescue means getting food that’s already been produced and getting it to food banks and food recovery organizations for those in need. Food rescue can also mean “upcycling” which involves making an entirely new food product from surplus or remnants.
● Recycling means turning decomposing food into a valuable end product like nutrient rich compost for agriculture, or biogas for trucks and city buses.
Even though wasted food is a major problem - there are so many exciting and creative ways you can be part of the solution. Things to try:
● Buy the ugly fruits and veggies you see at the grocery store and when you get home, freeze anything you don’t have a plan to eat this week.
● Set up an “eat first” bin in your refrigerator for leftovers and partially cut fruits and vegetables so you remember to eat them before they go bad.
● Plan to have an “everything but the kitchen sink” dinner once a week to make a stir fry, sandwich or omelette from disparate ingredients from the kitchen.
● Compost your food scraps and coffee grinds in your backyard or at your local farmers market.