To many, the term “food waste” conjures up one simple image: food being thrown away into a trash bin. However, the realities of food waste span much more broadly than one may think.
Yes, there’s the wasted food itself, but everything that went into getting the food to the table must also be considered: the production, processing, distribution and retail aspect of food all have substantial environmental impacts as well.
To begin, 30% to 40% of the nation’s food supply is thrown away — roughly 131 billion pounds or $161 billion worth of food. Food waste also makes up the largest category of materials in landfills. With 38 million Americans struggling with hunger, this wasted food could have made a great difference in many lives.
One of the major environmental implications of wasted food is the carbon footprint it has globally. An estimated 4.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide are produced in food that’s wasted. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, or a gas that traps heat in the atmosphere, and happens to be the most commonly produced greenhouse gas on the planet, emitted by burning fossil fuels and biological waste, among other things. Food waste also accounts for 22% of solid waste in landfills, which are the third-largest sources of methane, also a greenhouse gas, produced by human activity.
Another major consequence of food waste is the direct impact it has on land and water, polluting 21% of Earth’s freshwater and thus polluting the habitats of freshwater marine life and sources of drinking water. Along with this, 28% of the planet’s agricultural land is used to grow food that will be wasted. Farming is already an incredibly taxing process for soil yet one that must continue to support the economy. However, one vital way that damage control can be implemented in agriculture is reducing the amount of land used to grow crops, which makes it all the more disheartening to see so much land be used for nothing.
Unlike most environmental issues that rely on wide-scale legislation to be passed at both national and local levels, there are a couple things that everyday people can do to help eliminate food waste.
The first and most obvious step to reducing food waste is simply being more mindful of how much food one buys and how much of it is actually eaten. Taking stock of what will be wasted and what was consumed each week and adjusting your grocery list accordingly is an easy way to eliminate food waste and save money.
Another way to reduce personal food waste is by composting. While composting does produce greenhouse gases, feeding food scraps back into the earth enriches soil, a much more positive impact than it would have just rotting in a landfill.
Finally, one of the most underrated ways that food waste can be reduced is done by stores that sell produce.
Over the summer and on breaks, I work at a cooperative in Columbus that focuses greatly on selling local produce in an effort to support local farms. We had a table set out with produce that was not necessarily in its prime — some overripe tomatoes, a bundle of greens beginning to wilt — that was discounted in hopes of reducing food waste. This worked insanely well, as we threw out much less food and provided access to healthy, nutritious food at a lower cost.
Food waste is a major problem globally, but if everyday people and businesses work together, we could begin to slowly but surely make a positive impact on both the Earth and those living with food insecurity for a very small cost.
Meg Diehl is a freshman studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. What are your thoughts? Tell Meg by tweeting her at @irlbug.
Assistant Opinion Editor