Food Waste: 101

How many times have you finished a meal at a restaurant and felt guilty about the amount of food left on the table? Or have taken said leftover food home with honest intentions of eating it later. Fast forward to cleaning out your fridge. That same leftover container gets tossed in the garbage with other food that never made in to the weekly meal plan. Same goes for the inventory control at a restaurant or grocery store. Boxes and packages of food that never make it in to the chef’s special recipe or never make it on the shelves at the store.

Many consumers and businesses, especially in this economy, would immediately think about the financial waste. Why did I buy that much? I should have ordered less. I need to make smarter purchases, we need a better inventory management system… etc. Financial burden aside, what about the environmental burden?

According to the EPA, of all the materials that reach landfills and incinerators, food makes up the largest percentage of materials collected in municipal solid waste. In 2010, more than 34 million tons of food waste was generated with only three percent diverted from landfills and composting facilities.

So, how does this affect our environment? Why should we be encouraged to divert as much food waste as possible? When food rots it becomes a source of methane – an extremely potent greenhouse gas. But, it’s not only the “leftovers” that cause problems for the environment. Take a step back and think about the resources, like water and energy, needed to grow food. Consumers, think about this the next time you buy your groceries and set your meal plans. Businesses, think about that corporate sustainability report and how diverting your food waste could add value to your initiatives.

We are just getting rolling on the food waste wagon. There are many other reasons for diversion -economical, environmental and social- that we will cover at a later time, but I will leave you with this Food Recovery Hierarchy published by the EPA. And, I’ll say it again: Food Waste takes up the most space in our landfills. This isn’t necessary. Consumers and businesses alike are encouraged to look at multiple outlets for your food waste before tossing it in the container that is headed for the landfill.

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