We’ve heard that Americans are wasteful, but exactly how wasteful are we? The National Resources Defense Council estimates we each waste between $28 and $43 worth of food alone each month–that’s 20 pounds of food!
Wasted food comprises 20% of the content found in American landfills, where it sits, rots and produces methane gas, a greenhouse gas 20x more potent than carbon dioxide.
On a global scale, the issue is even graver. According to a study conducted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), global food waste consumes a volume of water equal to the yearly flow of Russia’s Volga River. Global food waste also creates 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases.
This isn’t just an environmental issue–it’s a moral one. While as much as 40% of the food produced in the U.S. goes uneaten, over 49 million Americans lived in food-insecure households in 2013, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report.
Furthermore, UNEP reports that 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted worldwide every year, all the while 870 million people go hungry every day. The total amount of food wasted by rich countries–222 million tons–is nearly equal to all the net food production from sub-Saharan Africa–230 million tons.
Economic Impact of Food Waste
While it is sometimes more profitable to throw extra food away than to save or donate it, especially in wealthier countries, global food waste costs producers $750 billion every year.
Many countries are starting to recognize the detrimental economic impact of food waste. In China, the government is encouraging people to waste less food, as cutting waste could help the country feed itself, especially if climate change reduces agricultural output, as experts anticipate. Similarly, the European Union aims to reduce food waste 50% by 2020, especially in light of the 2008-2009 economic crisis.
Tufts has been composting food waste since 1991, including food from Dewick, Carmichael and Mugar Cafe. Additional food establishments on campus will hopefully start composting their waste as well. Every year, Tufts diverts more than one ton of food waste from landfills by composting it. This amounts to more than 200 tons of food waste that’s composted annually.
Massachusetts is also paving the way toward a more just and sustainable food future. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection announced in October 2014 that businesses and institutions could not throw away one ton or more of commercial organic wastes per week. Rather than send these tons of wasted food to landfills, businesses and institutions are now required by law to send it to a composting facility.
What Can I Do?
Reduce your individual waste. Reducing the amount of food you throw away will allow you to save money and decrease your environmental footprint. This can be accomplished by being conscious about the food you buy and what you do with it:
- Buying in bulk can save you money, but only if you eat it all. Most foods, with the exception of eggs, fresh, certain water-rich vegetables and most dairy products, can be frozen. If you’re not sure if it can frozen, google it!
- There’s a growing number of literature that indicates that expiration dates on food are often arbitrary and extremely conservative. These dates tend to be inconsistent as well; some manufacturers print a “sell-by” date, others opt for a “use-by” date, and some print the ambiguous “best if used by.” Use your own judgement when consuming food products, especially if the product shows no sign or smell of expiration.
- Certain “expired” foods, like rotting bananas or stale bread, can be safely cooked into other new, delicious foods like croutons or banana bread.
Start a Waste Reduction Campaign! Food waste is becoming less and less sexy throughout the world. A UK-based charity recently started a campaign called “Love Food, Hate Waste.” Their website provides resources to help people stop wasting food, including recipes and food-saving tips.
Similarly, this restaurant in China launched a clean-plate campaign to encourage diners to reduce food waste.
Compost! Organic food waste, including scraps of fruits, vegetables, egg shells, grains and paper products, can easily be composted at home. If you live in a staffed dorm, then you have one or two student eco-reps who manage a compost bin in your dorm for residents like yourself. If you live off campus or in an on-campus apartment, you can obtain a compost bin through Tufts Recycles! More info here.