“If food waste were a country, it would come in third after the United States and China in terms of global warming” (Frischmann, 2018). It is no secret to anyone that food waste, especially in the U.S., is a major problem. Every year, $210 billion is spent on food that is never eaten, amounting to 52 million tons sent to landfills annually. Another 10 million tons are discarded or left unharvested on farms. Yet, one in eight Americans (estimated 49 million) are food insecure.
Food waste not only has social and economic implications, but also environmental. As 40% of food in the United States goes uneaten and sent to landfills, it contributes to 8% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. When the food rots in the landfill, it starts to release a chemical known as methane that is known to be “25 times more powerful than CO2” (Vogliano and Brown, 10). Only about 3% of the food in the U.S. is actually composted.
But food waste is not generic. Companies, consumers and countries contribute to food waste in different forms. In developing countries, for example, most food waste occurs before even reaching the market. Some reasons include inefficiency in transportation, equipment, packaging and storing the food. On the other hand, developed countries contribute in a larger extent to food waste once it has reached the consumer level. Big contributors are businesses such as grocery stores, institutions, catering departments and restaurants. Grocery stores specifically generate an absurd amount due to “cosmetic imperfections, expiration dates, damaged items and food returns” (Otten, 4). Other sectors such as restaurants generate due to “food trimmings, planned overproduction, spoilage and food served that customers do not eat” (Otten, 4).
According to the National Resource Defense Council, “if we are able to just rescue 15% of the food waste in the U.S., we could save enough to feed 25 million citizens” (Move For Hunger). Surprisingly, consumers waste the most food compared to supermarkets and other businesses. 43% of the food waste occurs at home, equaling a loss of about $1,300-$2,200 for a family of four every year (Move For Hunger). Moreover, wasting food affects the environment not just from the gases that are released but also from the unnecessary excessive use of resources – 21% of fresh water, 18% of cropland, and 19% of fertilizer used to produce the food wasted.
As a community, we need to start working together to reduce the amount of food waste sent to landfills. Because solutions vary from corporations to restaurants to consumers, we’ve provided a general view of what solutions can be implemented in order to tackle this issue.
For Businesses (grocery stores, catering departments, corporations, restaurants, organizations):
- Improve data on food loss to estimate how much is being thrown away and how much should be bought
- More accurate forecast demands based on consumer purchases to only bulk those items who sell the most
- Connect with organizations that provide surplus food to local shelters, after-school programs and other non-profit organizations.
- If you are part of a company that caters often, partner with a catering service, like FoodtoEat, that knows how to portion correctly.
- Educate consumers on what the difference is between “use by” and “sell by” dates, on how to decrease food waste with more efficient storing methods and on how to better reduce, recover and recycle.
- Invest in new technologies that can lengthen shelf life of fresh meat/poultry/fish, can delay the ripening of fruits and vegetables during shipping and storage, and monitor food waste in large communal kitchens to reduce costs.
- Find creative ways to sell or avoid wasting food that has been mislabeled, bruised or overproduced.
- Move older food products to the front of the fridge so you remember to eat them!
- Take your restaurant leftovers with you and refrigerate them. That way, you don’t have to spend money on your next lunch at work.
- This is going to sound weird, but check your garbage. Not to pick the leftovers, but to know what food you are tossing regularly so you buy less of it.
- Compost excess food if you have a terrace or lawn. This will enrich your soil and help decrease greenhouse gasses.
- Meal prep! By knowing what you have in your fridge, you know what you are missing in order to buy.
- Most importantly, embrace the so-called “ugly” fruits and vegetables! They have exactly the same minerals, vitamins and nutrients as those more pleasing to the eye. This is BY FAR one of the biggest issues with major grocery chains.
- Freeze! Freezing food is the best method to not let it rot. For example, those leafy greens that seem to soft for your salad are perfect to be put in the freezer for smoothies.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Food waste is a big challenge, but there are already numerous companies investing in technology to combat this battle as well as individuals taking action. Addressing this problem is beneficial for our communities, our bank accounts, our health, our soil, and individuals with very few resources.
While we need all possible solutions to be implemented in parallel, our daily decisions on how we produce, consume, and purchase is the most important contribution. We, the consumers, are the most significant cause of food waste (Robbins, 2018) since our way of thinking triggers companies’ actions. For example, if we demand more “ugly” products in our supermarkets, these chains will start promoting more and wasting less of them.
That being said, individuals being the main cause of food waste can be seen in a positive light. If we want to improve the ecosystem that surrounds us, we can change our decision making process to make businesses and organizations act quicker and smarter. In fact, we can all start today…
Gunders D. Wasted: How America is losing up to 40 percent of its food from farm to fork to landfill. Natural Resources Defense Council website. http://www.nrdc.org/food/files/wasted-food-ip.pdf. Published August 2012.
The Economist. Watching fruit rot. http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21641262-ifdockworkers-union-blocks-west-coast-ports-shippers-will-find-others-watching-fruit. Published January 31, 2015.
The Healthline. 20 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Food Waste. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/reduce-food-waste. Published November 20, 2017. Kubala, Jillian.
Vogliano, C. and Brown, K. 2016. The State of America’s Wasted Food and Opportunities to Make A Difference. https://eatrightfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/The-State-of-Americas-Food-Waste-Report.pdf.
Frischmann, Chad. “The Climate Impact of the Food in the Back of Your Fridge.” The Washington Post, WP Company. 31 July 2018. beta.washingtonpost.com/news/theworldpost/wp/2018/07/31/food-waste/?noredirect=on.
Otten, Jennifer. Food Waste Prevention and Recovery Assessment Report. 2016. https://depts.washington.edu/uwcphn/reports/SeattleFoodWasteReport.PDF
Move For Hunger. About Food Waste. http://www.moveforhunger.org/about-food-waste.