Food waste is a more significant issue that a lot of people think. And food waste isn't unique to first-world countries either.
I'm not talking about composting your leftovers. I'm referring to unprepared food that's thrown out.
Tackling food waste at home and in supply chains is an essential step in limiting the human impact on climate change. And it's something we must start doing at home!
I have little faith in our government's ability to solve problems. Therefore, I'm always looking for what WE can do to change things.
After reading Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal by Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin, I was struck by the food waste statistics. An issue in both developed and developing nations.
According to Robert Pollin's research, between 35% and 50% of global food produced is wasted annually.
In developing nations, this waste happens at the production level due to improper storage and distribution. While in high-income countries, food wastage occurs in retail distribution and consumption (or at home).
According to Robert Pollin, if we can reduce the waste in developing nations by 10%, this will save 5% of the demand for land globally.
Considering the cost implications of fixing storage and production issues in developing nations, the more straightforward solution is to promote less food waste in developed countries. Starting in our homes!
Is Food Waste a Problem?
The short answer is yes, food waste is a significant problem.
Think about why food waste is bad for the environment—the source of food comes from farms, land, soil. Agriculture requires land, which often means deforestation.
Food Waste and Climate Change
You also have to consider the greenhouse gas emissions from farm animals, transportation, processing, and the entire supply chain to produce wasted food.
The World Resources Institute's (WRI) research has shown that food waste is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
"WRI's research has shown that if global food loss and waste were a country, its greenhouse gas emissions would be the third-largest after China and the United States."
Excerpt from WRI on Tackling Global Challenges
Furthermore, suppose your food waste isn't properly composted. In that case, it ends up in landfills, adding greenhouse gas emissions and avoidable costs to the taxpayer (aka you and me).
Food Waste Costs
As consumers, we need to consider food waste costs seriously because you can be sure these are impacting your pocket, not the retailers.
In pricing food, retailers include wastage in their costs. This means YOU are paying even when the food is discarded by the grocery store.
Not to mention, you're also picking up the cost for the food you waste at home!
Reason's for Food Waste
A 2019 survey by Waste360 found that Americans throw away 103 pounds of spoiled food annually. The average American has around $102 of food in their fridge, and about half of that is thrown away weekly.
This costs the average American household $2,798 every year. You also need to consider that these stats refer to unprepared food from the fridge. When you consider uneaten, prepared food waste, the cost per household could be higher.
Reasons for Food Waste in the United States
In the Waste360 survey, respondents gave these top 5 reasons for food waste:
- It will go bad before I can reuse it: 52 percent
- I frequently buy more than I need: 47 percent
- Not enough to make another meal: 36 percent
- Lack of organization in the fridge: 36 percent
- Lack of space in the fridge: 29 percent
If you are serious about the environment and tackling climate change, do these seem like good reasons to throw out food?
Top 10 Food Waste Items in the United States
The top 10 food items discarded in American households:
- Bananas: 55 percent
- Strawberries: 50 percent
- Apples: 47 percent
- Bread: 46 percent
- Milk: 46 percent
- Blueberries: 45 percent
- Leafy greens: 44 percent
- Potatoes: 43 percent
- Meat: 43 percent
- Yogurt: 42 percent
How Food Waste Can Be Reduced
As you can see from the Waste360 survey, much of our first-world food waste can easily be solved at home.
5 Ways to Reduce Food Waste
1. Stop Buying More Food Than You Need
The most significant contributor to food waste at home is that we buy more food than we need. The solution to this is better planning and budgeting.
Without a plan, you're just filling your fridge with food to throw away.
Let's take bananas as an example—one of the most thrown away food items in the United States. If you only eat a banana a day, then you only need 7 a week. You might save money buying a large bunch of 10 bananas, but if you throw away 3, then you're losing 30% of your saving.
Side note: bananas that have turned are excellent for making a banana loaf.
2. Check Expiry Dates In-Store
We're often swayed by "2 for 1" or "priced to go" deals in grocery stores. Often these markdowns are because the product is close to or on the day of expiry.
A pound of strawberries on special because they're about to expire sounds like a deal, but if you don't eat them within 48 hours, they'll likely end up in the trash!
3. Freeze Fruit to Use Later
Four of the top 10 things the average American household throws away is fresh fruit. Rather than throwing fruit out, chop and freeze to use in smoothies.
Contrary to popular belief, "freezing helps retain the nutrient content of fruits and vegetables," according to Healthline.
Frozen fruit can be used for smoothies, making ice cream, and even baking cakes and pies.
4. Consider Beef & Dairy Alternatives
This is a bit controversial, but we must seriously consider reducing our beef and dairy consumption. Especially if that food is ending up in the trash!
David Attenborough's new Netflix documentary, A Life on Our Planet, was an eyeopener for me. And I think it should shock a lot of people.
In A Life on Our Planet, Mr. Attenborough describes how rainforests, particularly in Brazil and South America, are cut down to make space for grazing and crops to feed cows.
Furthermore, cattle and other ruminants contribute 4% of greenhouse gases produced by the United States.
I'm not advocating for a plant-based diet, but I encourage people to do their own research - from scientific sources. Bloggers and the news media are not the places to find objective, scientific facts about diet.
The Better Buying Lab is an excellent initiative from the World Resources Institute to better understand how our diet impacts the environment. And how to change to a more sustainable way of eating.
Nevermind consuming, are you considering the environmental cost of throwing out meat and dairy products?
5. Give Away to Food Banks
Four of the top 5 reasons Americans throw away food has nothing to do with expiry but excess. We have too much and need to make space in the refrigerator.
Instead of throwing food out, drop it off at your local food bank or shelter. Feeding America is an excellent resource to find your local food bank to drop off your unwanted items.
When you consider that food waste is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, reducing our impact on the environment has to start at home.
Too often, we see activists shouting about what oil companies and big agriculture are doing to the environment when we are causing just as much harm.
We are the marketplace, not businesses. Businesses react to market demands; therefore, we need to change, not the other way around.
Figure out how to reduce your food waste; it's more important than you think.