Food Waste: Why We Should Care

Even though one in every eight Americans struggles to put food on the table, forty percent of the food in the United States is never eaten in the first place. This has significant consequences for the environment as well; for instance, producing all this extra food also causes excessive greenhouse gasses that contribute large amounts of CO2 up to the atmosphere. Sadly, the problem is expected to continue growing. In the year 2007 alone, the world emitted around 3.3 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in order to produce all this extra food. That same year, over 1.6 billion tons of food were wasted.  This could be avoided if we were not making more food than that that is going to be consumed. This topic causes me to think about the Malthusian theory of population growth: will humans outnumber our resources? In order to examine future food demand, we must have a good understanding of food waste first. By managing food efficiently, we will be able to reduce our carbon footprint and ensure a healthier environment for humans to exist in, in general.

Food waste happens at various point along the supply chain, however, there is a big problem in food production. Technological advances and better resource allocation will allow for more efficient production. For instance, better preservation methods for meats, fruits, and vegetables will be a great advancement, as these go bad quickly if not properly stored. These technologies should be green, meaning that they should be, for example, solar powered. There are solar powered technologies, such as solar dryers, that increase the lifetime of several foods in storage. This kind of technology benefits both the supplier and the consumer; the supplier gets greater economic profit because the product has a longer shelf life, and the consumer has more time to eat a certain food before it goes bad.

A good way to tackle this issue from the consumer’s end is composting. By composting, we are adding nutrients back to the soil. This is good for cultivation, as it acts as a natural fertilizer; consequently, composting reduces greenhouse emissions related to fertilizer and pesticide production. Because the soil is healthier in general, there is less fuel usage for tilling the soil. Also, by reducing methane emissions, composting lowers our carbon footprint.

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Food waste is the third biggest producer of greenhouse emissions in the world, preceded by the USA and China. These wastes end up in landfills, which then produce a large amount of methane. This gas is more powerful than CO2. An excess of this gas is what absorbs infrared radiation and heats up the earth’s atmosphere. The effects of this are palpable today: global warming and climate change.

Other than these effects, food waste has other negative effects that are not as perceptible, such as water waste. By wasting food that needed water to be produced, we are taking advantage of the world’s natural water resources and, essentially, throwing them away. The amount of water used to produce food that is not eaten is around three times the volume of Lake Geneva.  To put things in perspective, throwing away 1 kg of beef is like throwing away 50,000 liters of water. Essentially, food waste is slowly depleting the Earth’s freshwater and ground water resources. If cautionary methods are not taken in order to decelerate this process, we may see the need to ration water, which will translate to dryer lands and a sudden drop in food production.

Education is a big part of resolving the problem. States such as California have proposed bills in order to change the wording related to expiration dates used on packaging. This will prevent consumers from throwing out products that are still good to eat. The bill proposed writing “best by -”, followed by the date in which the food is at its highest quality, and an “expires on -” followed by the date in which it becomes unsafe to consume that particular food.  Grocery stores are also taking initiatives to prompt shoppers to consider buying fruits and vegetables that do not look as “nice” as others, but that are still perfectly good to eat or cook with.

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If there is a big enough drive to wanting to preserve food availability, it is possible to aid food waste issues through simple tasks such as composting. However, many are skeptical about beginning to do so because they are not aware of the severity of the problem, or simply do not know enough about it and its benefits, to begin doing so.  Regardless, if there is not a world-wide effort to reduce food waste, the negative effects of emissions from landfills and water waste might catch up to the world when it least expects it.

By: Fabiola Aquino

“Composting At Home.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 20 Mar. 2017, www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home#benefits.

Harvey, Chelsea. “The Enormous Carbon Footprint of Food That We Never Even Eat.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 28 Mar. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/03/28/the-enormous-carbon-footprint-of-the-food-we-never-eat/?utm_term=.da6364a0f70d.

“How Are Greenhouse Gases Bad for the Earth?” Sciencing, sciencing.com/greenhouse-gases-bad-earth-23688.html.

June 16, 2016 Jillian Mackenzie. “Composting Is Way Easier Than You Think.” NRDC, 16 Nov. 2017, www.nrdc.org/stories/composting-way-easier-you-think.

“The Environmental Impact of Food Waste.” Move For Hunger, 19 Aug. 2016, www.moveforhunger.org/the-environmental-impact-of-food-waste/.

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