Don’t Throw It Away

Food waste contributes to world’s ecological woes.

Food Waste

iStockphoto.com/Edward Shaw

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The skyrocketing cost of living is hitting every American. With the price of fuel making regular hops upward, the costs of food and other consumer goods are rising accordingly. And in a difficult economy, food banks experience lower donations at a time when demand increases as a result of food insecurity. Statistics show about 10 percent of American homes suffer food insecurity at least part of the time.

For individuals, one way to help cut the weekly grocery bill is to buy local produce; another is to cut back on waste.

About a quarter of our food goes to waste. In 1997, the Department of Agriculture conducted a study that said in 1995, 96.4 billion pounds of food – out of 356 billion pounds of edible food – in the United States was never eaten. (The department is in the process of updating the study.)

The Environmental Protection Agency, in a more recent study, estimates that Americans generate 30 million tons of food waste each year, with 98 percent of that ending up in landfills. When looking at yard waste, the figures switch – only 38 percent ends up in landfills, most is composted. And consider the fact that rotting food produces massive amounts of methane, contributing to the greenhouse effect.

Granted, not all of that food waste would have been edible, though much if it could have been made into food for animals or recycled for other products, including compost.

There is also the matter of cost. The United States spends an estimated $1 billion a year to dispose of food waste.

World hunger and the greenhouse effect won’t be eliminated if Americans cut back on the food waste, but reducing food waste would make a dent, and it wouldn’t cost much in the way of money or effort. An estimate by the Department of Agriculture shows that recovering just 5 percent of wasted food would feed four million people a day. If the recovered figure goes up to 25 percent, 20 million people could be fed.

Many food rescue organizations are working to help cafeterias and restaurants dispose of unused food, such as pans of lasagna that were never served. Participating restaurants need only cover the food and, in some cases, place it in a freezer. The food is then picked up by groups such as City Harvest, which collects excess food from 170 places in New York City. A number of states and cities are offering programs for food that isn’t edible, making it available to livestock farmers or composting it.

The EPA offers guides for reducing food waste on the web at www.EPA.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/reduce/wastenot.htm and www.EPA.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/reduce/food/food.htm.

Share your efforts in decreasing or eliminating food waste. Does your community have a food rescue organization, programs to reduce food waste, or composting availability? E-mail us at Editor@Grit.com with your stories and photographs.