The theme for Earth Day 2021 is “Restore Our Earth.” As the earth continues to warm, people have become more conscious of making choices with a positive environmental outcome.
One thing I hadn’t previously considered but have been reading about at length recently is the impact that food waste has on the planet. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is responsible for coordinating responses to environmental issues within the United Nations system. According to the UNEP, “Globally, if food waste could be represented as its own country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind China and the US.”
Americans waste a significant portion of the food produced in the US. According to the US Department of Agriculture, food waste is estimated at:
Between 30-40 percent of the food supply
133 billion pounds of food
Monetary loss estimated at $161.6 billion
An estimated 141 trillion calories per year – 1,249 calories per capita per day (based on 2010 numbers)
Globally, food is lost or wasted at about the same rate– according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), one-third of edible food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted each year. Lost food includes food that spoils or is lost before it reaches the consumer. Problems in storage, packaging, and processing can lead to food loss. Food waste refers to quality food that is not consumed. This most often takes place after the food has reached retail outlets or the consumer.
The FAO estimates that food loss and waste account for 8.2 percent of the total human-made greenhouse gas emissions. When we toss still-edible food into the trash, it ends up in landfills, where it generates methane, and according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, 34 percent of all methane emissions in the US come from landfills. Keep in mind that the earth’s resources are also depleted in the production of food to begin with. With less waste, less production would be needed, thereby lowering emissions even further.
The cost of wasted food has always bothered me when throwing food out, as well as the thought that someone, somewhere was hungry while I had an over-abundance. With the addition of environmental concerns, my family has started making a more concerted effort to waste less food. With just a little effort, we are planning our meals more strategically to utilize all ingredients purchased. Leftovers aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, so we cook smaller portions. When we do have leftovers, we eat them far more often than in the past.
Possible other ways to mitigate food waste in your household is consider composting—the decomposing of organic material (leftover from your dinner plate or even yard and garden work). Compost is rich in essential plant nutrients, organic matter and microorganisms that boost soil health. This leads to improved soil structure and reduces the needs of other synthetic fertilizers and chemicals.
Use the compost in your own garden and you’re likely to be able to skip the Miracle Grow. Not the gardening type? Maybe your neighbor is.
If we can take the food waste and lost food out of the landfill, compost it, and get it to farmers' fields…..think about the positive impacts that would have to our environment and climate! A quick Google search will yield articles highlighting composting on a much larger scale, but there’s more to be done.
I encourage everyone to think about your family’s food waste and how you might be able to minimize it. It’s a win-win for us all!
CCSI Northern Program Manager
CCSI Southern Program Manager