Food Waste

Food inside of a trashcan.

Lauren Vernon

Food inside of a trashcan.

Blue Brasher, Reporter

Americans waste an unfathomable amount of food. Roughly 50 percent of all produce in the United States is thrown away – 60 million tons (or $160 billion) worth of produce annually. Wasted food is the single biggest occupant in American landfills, the Environmental Protection Agency has found.

Meanwhile, 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. That is one in nine people on the planet who are starving or malnourished. Each and every one of them could be fed on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the USA, UK, and Europe each year.

Demand for food in the West can drive up the price of food grown for export in developing countries, making it difficult to get food for those in need. But hunger is not just a problem that is happening “somewhere else.” In the UK for example, over one million people accessed a food bank in 2017, and in the USA 40 million Americans live in food poverty.

Not only is food waste immoral for those in need, it also has detrimental effects on the environment. It takes a land mass larger than China to grow the food each year that is never eaten. That is land that has been deforested, species that have been driven to extinction, indigenous populations that have been moved, soil that has been degraded – all to produce food that is just thrown away. Land isn’t the only thing wasted either; water is too. Twenty-five percent of the world’s fresh water supply is used to grow food that is never eaten.

Not only are all the resources that go into creating uneaten food wasted (land, water, labor, energy, manufacturing, packaging), but when food waste goes to the landfill, which is where most of it ends up, it creates copious amounts of natural gas. It has to decompose without access to oxygen and consequently releases methane into the atmosphere. Methane is 23 times more deadly than carbon dioxide.

To give a better visual, if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the USA.

So, what causes all this food waste? A major reason is that food is cheaper in the United States than nearly anywhere else in the world, but the great American squandering of food appears to be a cultural dynamic as well, enabled by a national obsession with the aesthetic quality of food. Fruits and veggies naturally bruise, wilt, or discolor and that is something American shoppers will not put up with. This is proved by shoppers who refuse to buy imperfect-looking fruit as well as grocers who refuse to stock the shelves with any wonky-looking produce.

But this assumes such produce even reaches the stores. The Guardian‘s Suzanne Goldenberg reports that, “Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the U.S. are left in the field to rot or hauled directly from the field to the landfill, because if unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards.”

Now, it’s easy for many people to dismiss food waste as someone else’s problem and focus solely on the shocking example of waste on the production level of the food industry. However, the reality is that in the ‘developed’ world, more than 50 percent of food waste takes place in our homes.

In the UK the average family throws away 22 percent of their weekly groceries, which is worth 700 pounds per year. In the US, the per-family equivalent is worth a staggering 2,275 dollars each year.

The bad news is that we are half the problem, but the good news is that we can do something about it. There are some surprisingly small steps everyone can take that will actually make a difference. Solutions range from paying close attention to use-by dates, finding better storage tactics, planning meals, or volunteering with local Food Rescue Organizations.

Some Food Rescue Organizations in Fayetteville that always need volunteers are Tri Cycle Farms, INC. and Razorback Food Recovery. Volunteers take wasted food from different retail locations and redistribute it to those in need.

Another great way to cut back on waste in the home is to keep a food waste journal. All you have to do is keep track of how much food you and your family throw away and why. This helps determine both what you’re wasting and what you can do about it.

Overall, the best way to make a difference is to spread the word. Let the world know how this is a detrimental and serious problem. Two point three billion people are joining the planet by 2050, and this will require a 60 to 70 percent increase in global food production. Or we can just stop throwing away our food!

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