Did you know the average American family of four throws out $1,600 a year in produce? While America might be one of the most technically and economically advanced cultures in the world, we also have the highest waste on the planet—1.3 billion tons of food wasted or lost annually. Money aside, that’s an incredible amount of waste, both physically and energetically.
Kate Christian, corporate sustainability manager at Eco-Cycle, says, “While the food waste movement across America is gaining momentum, it needs to pick up speed to help tackle one of the globe’s most pressing problems: climate change. In fact, the resources used to produce food that is eventually lost or wasted account for approximately 4.4 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, making food loss and waste the world’s third-largest GHG emitter.”
Additionally, food is the largest component taking up space in landfills. It takes up 22% of municipal solid waste. Food waste has gotten increasingly worse over the past several decades; however, the amount of food waste being generated in the United States has recently stopped increasing, after rising by 11.9% since 2010. While that is certainly good news, we have a long way to go to reach a 50% reduction by 2030.
Christian says, “We aren’t growing our food anymore, few of us have shook the hand of our farmer, and cheap, available food has created behaviors that do not place high value on utilizing what is purchased. As a result, the issue of wasted food is simply not on the radar of many Americans, even those who consider themselves environment- or cost-conscious.”
Understanding how food waste happens at home
Food waste and loss happens along every part of the food system, but here is how you can help in your own home. While restaurants, markets and stores play their own parts, once groceries make it home, there are several ways they can get wasted. Anyone who has ever held an outdated container in their hands debating whether or not it’s still edible understands.
Christian says, “Label dates on food are generally not regulated and do not indicate food safety. Multiple dates, inconsistent usage, and lack of education around date labels cause consumers to discard food prematurely.”
Then there’s the obvious food spoilage that happens when spills occur or items get crammed into the back of the fridge and forgotten about. Lack of meal planning and shopping lists, or those bulk impulse buys when the word “sale” makes you buy more than you can physically eat or store properly are all contributors to potential food waste.
If this rings true for you, that’s OK! We’ve all been there. The goal is to turn it around and improve, not to dwell on past mistakes.
Combating the issue, locally
Community Food Share is a local organization that prioritizes rescuing and distributing surplus food, minimizing environmental impact in support of our community’s social, economic, and environmental health. Last year, the organization repurposed a whopping 368,000 pounds of unusable or expired produce, dairy and bakery items.
“Our goal is to distribute 100% of the food that is donated to us to people in need. But sometimes, food donations come to us with some misfits: bread is stale, spinach is past its prime, or potatoes have grown a few too many ‘eyes.’ Instead of sending these inedible food scraps to compost or the landfill, we have arrangements with local livestock farmers and animal sanctuaries to use it as animal feed,” says Dana Van Daele, manager of food resources and compliance at Community Food Share. Any food that is unfit for both human and animal consumption is composted.
How you can get involved at home
- Shop wisely by planning meals. Try buying from bulk containers. Use shopping lists to avoid impulse purchases.
- Choose imperfect produce. Also, buy bananas that aren’t grouped; often the individuals get binned!
- Rethink storage options. Use clear containers to feature bulk items like beans and rice. Make a snack section in your cabinet or pantry and show the kiddos how to grab quick, healthy bites like pretzels, nuts and dried fruit. Cut vegetables in the fridge get gobbled up faster than uncut. Store carrots and celery in water to help them keep their crunch.
- Make a “use first bin” and keep it in the most visible spot of the fridge. Store leftovers or items that will perish quickly in the same easy-to-spot area.
- Learn how to compost what you must toss (like banana peels and lemon rinds) and show other family members how and what to dispose of. Composting is easy once you know how to do it.
- Regrow food with kids. Christian says celery can be regrown from the bottom portion and green onions will continue to grow after the dark greens have been cut. (She suggests looking on Pinterest for further inspiration.)
FOR EXTRA CREDIT
- Subscribe to the Eco-Cycle newsletter. Find a handy link at the bottom of their site, ecocycle.org, or follow along on social media for regular tips, tricks, and info about food waste.
- Volunteer at Community Food Share. See all the ways they divert food out of the landfills. See firsthand how they rescue unsellable but perfectly good food from local grocery stores and then distribute it to our community. Communityfoodshare.org/volunteer