Food Waste and the Environment By: Cecile Edleman

Natural resources are constantly a part of our daily life. Not one person today goes through their day without using some form of a natural resource and humans have been consuming natural resources since the beginning of time. Everyone gains tremendous utility in some fashion from the environment. Natural resources provide everything from food we consume daily to the (relatively) clean air we breath to the beautiful National Parks everyone is free to enjoy. One major utility we get from the environment is food through agriculture. We would like to think that we are living in Pareto Optimality; that given the current conditions society is optimally using its resources, but unfortunately this is not the case. One major resource we are insufficiently using is agriculture.

We’ve all heard form our moms at least once before “finish your dinner there’s people starving in Africa” but are we really aware of the extent food waste is around the world? In the United States alone, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply (USDA). Additionally, 31 percent food loss at the retail and consumer levels, corresponded to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food (USDA OCE). This amount of waste has far-reaching impacts on food security, resource conservation and climate change. This is food that could’ve helped feed families in need being sent to landfills. The main aspect of food waste most people think about it all of the people in need that food could’ve helped. The food discarded by retailers and consumers in the most developed countries would be more than enough to feed all of the world’s 870 million hungry people, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Society tends to be anthropocentrism meaning we tend to discount ecological impact our consumption and waste causes. In addition to this great loss in opportunity to feed the needy there are environmental implications and degradation that takes place with excessive food waste. This environmental degradation occurs in the agricultural side of farming the food and when this food is wasted. Environmentally wise, “food waste is the single largest component going into municipal landfills. When food sits in landfills it quickly generates methane, helping to make landfills the third largest source of methane in the United States” (USDA OCE). Additionally The land, water, labor, energy and other inputs used in producing, processing, transporting, preparing, storing, and disposing of discarded food are pulled away from uses that may have been more beneficial to society – and generate impacts on the environment that may endanger the long-term health of the planet.As the global population increases, so does the demand for agricultural products and as most of us are aware our population has been increasing exponentially.

An economic theory, the Malthusian Trap, states as economic growth progresses population growth would outstrip food growth. This has yet to happen thus far due to technology has allowed us to avoid this and help develop economies. This has influenced research on carrying capacity and population growth. Agricultural best management practices help lead to the sustainable use of natural resources and the environment. Resource economists address how choices are made by farmers, ranchers, and policymakers; how policy incentives might motivate better choices; and the potential consequences and distribution effects of these choices (NIFA USDA).

Production of food consumes vast quantities of water, fertilizer and land. The fuel that is burned to process, refrigerate and transport it also adds to the environmental cost. Most food waste is thrown away in landfills, where it decomposes and emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Globally, it creates 3.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases annually, about 7 percent of the total emissions (NYTimes). Somre policies and solutions to this in order to reduce hunger and the environmental damage created by wasted food are as follows. In the event of a food surplus, re-use within the human food chain by finding secondary markets or donating extra food to feed lower income members of society. If the food is not fit for human consumption, the next best option is to divert it for livestock feed, conserving resources that would otherwise be used to produce commercial feedstuff. Where re-use is not possible, recycling and recovery should be pursued by-product recycling, anaerobic digestion, compositing, and incineration with energy recovery allow energy and nutrients to be recovered from food waste, representing a significant advantage over dumping it in landfills (NYtimes). Uneaten food that ends up rotting in landfills is a large producer of methane, a particularly harmful GHG. The only down side to these possible solutions is that it would take extra effort on both producer and consumer sides. Unfortunately meaning, without a mandate change happening soon seems bleak.



Works Cited

Nixon, Ron. “Food Waste Is Becoming Serious Economic and Environmental Issue, Report Says.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Feb. 2015

“National Institute of Food and Agriculture.” Environmental & Resource Economics Programs | National Institute of Food and Agriculture,

“Food Waste in America / Society of St. Andrew.” EndHunger,

“Food Waste Harms Climate, Water, Land and Biodiversity – New FAO Report.” FAO – News Article: Food Waste Harms Climate, Water, Land and Biodiversity – New FAO Report,

USDA | OCE | U.S. Food Waste Challenge | FAQ’s,









Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s