Food Waste in the United States

One of the largest problems that the world is facing right now is not even on some peoples minds.  It is a problem that damages the atmosphere via global warming, keeps millions of Americans hungry, and flies under the radar as most American families do not know about the issues that they are causing.  This problem is food waste.

pilot-scheme-shows-promise-in-repurposing-commercial-food-wastesImage by Food Navigator

In America, it is estimated that 30-40% of food that we buy gets thrown away.  90% of that waste ends up in a landfill rather than being composted, or using other secure ways to discard food.  When food ends up in the landfill, it begins to break down very quickly, which releases a lot of methane gas, that ultimately enhances the effects on climate change.  According to EndHunger.org, if food waste could be classified as a country, it would be the third largest producer of greenhouse gases, falling just behind China and the US.  The biggest problem associated with food waste, is the methane released, which is up to 90x more potent than CO2 in the atmosphere.  Typically there is relatively little amounts of Methane released compared to CO2, but with the production of food waste, this number will continue to increase, eventually leading to a large increase in our atmospheric temperature.

food_waste_headerImage by Campus Kitchens

The second problem associated with food waste is the fact that 50 million Americans don’t have a steady supply of food, this is called food insecurity.  In order to combat food insecurity, if everyone one of us either purchased less food at the market or didn’t throw away that somewhat old piece of meat or vegetables, we would be able to feed 25 million more Americans every year.  To do this, we would only need to reduce food waste by 15%, according to NRDC.  This is such a small amount that is very doable in the coming years. In fact, the USDA and EPA made a joint agreement to cut food waste by 50% in 2030.  If a 15% reduction can feed half of the hungry families in the US, imagine what 50% could do for the world.  This would also substantially decrease the amount of methane released into the atmosphere.

Finance

Lastly, with all this food loss comes a pretty hefty financial loss as well.  According to RefEd.com, there is an estimated $220 Billion that is spent in order to grow, transport, and get rid of foods that are never eaten.  To put that into perspective, Donald Trump has a net worth of just under $4 Billion.  This massive amount of money could be spent on feeding people around the world, let alone the US.

Mitigation

Now that we’ve identified the climate and ethical problem that is food waste, we can look into ways to avoid throwing out excess food.  The EPA has a list of suggestions on what to do with that extra food that we aren’t going to eat.  First on the list, is to simply reduce the amount of surplus food we buy at the market.  This is probably the easiest way to reduce waste; by going to the market more often, but by buying less food each time.  This minimizes the amount of food that will go bad and it will lead to a less overstocked fridge which can lead to food getting shoved to the back that eventually goes bad.  The next way to mitigate waste is to donate any left over food to the homeless and hungry people of the US.  If we don’t think that the food is suitable for humans to eat, we can give our extra food to help feed animals around the world.  Whether it is a dog or a cow on a farm, giving food to help animals minimizes the waste and minimizes that extra food we have to buy to feed our animals.  Second to last on the list is to give it to industries to be able to produce biofuel or other sources of energy from the excess food.  (Composting also fits into this category).  The LAST thing on the list is to put it in a landfill.  The EPA labels this as a last resort, something that we should rarely have to do.

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Image by EPA

40% of household food gets thrown away, so how is it that something that should be last resort, ends up being our first choice?  This is not only an issue of climate change and hunger, it is a societal problem in which we must change our habits.  This is not something that is easy to do, but with regulation and education we will be able to teach people the impacts of throwing away their food.  It will take time to do this, as shown by the EPA, by 2030 we are hoping to cut our food waste in half.  If this is done, we will save $220 Billion annually that can be put towards feeding the hungry around the world.  We will also be able to feed the 50 million hungry Americans that we so often hear about.  Food waste is not a primary issue in regards to climate change, and it is time it starts to become one.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Food Waste in the United States

  1. amyquandt

    The food recovery hierarchy is very informative! How do you think we can make it easier for people to take advantage of the top levels of the pyramid instead of going straight to the bottom – landfills?

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  2. cooperluvisa

    I think the best way to make it easier for people to use the higher levels is simply by education. By educating the general population and giving them a physical Food Recovery Hierarchy so they can learn about all the ways we can and should be throwing things away. This has been done similarly with recyclable materials on recycle cans, it would list everything that could be recycled and what couldn’t. Putting the hierarchy on trashcans would show people the other options. I think the biggest problem is that people don’t know that there are other options for getting rid of food waste. Therefore education is the best approach to solving this issue, in my opinion.

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