Reducing & Diverting Food Wastes: Need of the Hour

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Growing up, we never threw away any food. Our food wastage was minimal from careful planning and innovation. Leftovers were turned into something more delicious and any food still leftover was shared or given away.  I am sure this was the story of many households. But not anymore.

With our fast paced lives now, Americans throw away more than 25 percent of the food prepared, about 96 billion pounds of food waste each year according to the USDA. In 2009, about 33 million tons, was thrown away into landfills or incinerators per the EPA. Food waste costs the US $100 billion a year and counting!

The decomposition of food and organic matter under anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions, prevalent in a landfill produces methane, a greenhouse gas (GHG) that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide in worsening climate change. So even if you are a vegetarian, you could be contributing as much GHG’s as your meat-eating neighbor, if you send organic wastes to the landfill. What is the point of compost-able cutlery, plates, compost-able chip bags or anything else if they are all making their way to a landfill? They are actually making the GHG situation worse.

Food waste recovery hierarchy: Source Epa.gov

The EPA has a food waste recovery hierarchy for managing food waste. Obviously, the eco-friendly mantra of “reduce” works very well here. Most people can reduce food wastage in easy ways like meal planning, proper storage, refrigeration etc. The Daily Green has a list of simple ways you can save food and dollars. Many universities are going “tray-less” to curb food wastage, assuming that without the convenience of a tray, students will only take what they need and reduce excess food thrown away.

Any business or industry can make a consorted effort to reduce organic wastes to the landfill, save money and be eco-conscious. A waste audit could be useful to identify areas to reduce waste, both organic and inorganic that would translate into considerable savings for a business. Restaurants or other food businesses can collaborate with a soup kitchen or the likes to donate perfectly good food.

Businesses can divert organic wastes from a landfill by teaming up with a hauler like Waste Neutral that will haul away organic waste to compost and provide organic rich manure in return. Waste Management, Inc. announced this month that it is developing a new organics facility in Okeechobee, Florida.

…The facility will process yard, food and clean wood waste to create value added soil amendments as well as bagged lawn and garden products…

Till the time facilities like these are more widespread, organic waste at home can be composted.  Composting not only diverts food waste but is also very beneficial and eco-friendly. A number of excellent resources on composting can be found online, including the EPA website or at “How to compost.org”

Growing and preparing food is energy intensive and has a huge environmental impact. Wasted food doesn’t just go away. It creates a never-ending cycle of eco-damage and revenue loss that can and must be stopped.