At the moment Americans waste roughly $160 billion in food annually, which directly translates into approximately 130 billion pounds of food that’s thrown away. Research carried out in 2009 has already pointed out how food waste accounts for more than a quarter of the entire freshwater consumption in the United States plus a total of 300 million barrels of oil per year; in addition to contributing with extra amounts of CO2 and methane emissions coming from decomposing food; thus enhancing climate change. While in Asia and Africa half of all deaths in children under five are linked to malnutrition, nearly half of our national produce is being thrown away as we speak.
In a global context, studies requested by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) back in 2010 highlighted that about one-third of food meant for human consumption is lost or wasted. The studies’ results took into account wastes and losses throughout the entire supply chain, from initial production all the way to final consumer level. Outcomes also revealed that the food waste crisis in industrialized countries is far worse than in developing countries; in North America and Europe for example 95 to 115 kilograms per capita go to waste every year at a customer level only, whereas in sub-Saharan and Southeast Asia merely 6 to 11 kilograms. Consumer behavior is said to be one of the main causes behind the current status-quo surrounding food waste in first world countries.
But if it is our own behavior that’s causing this massive misuse of the very precious natural resources that keep us alive, what can we do about it?
In 2015 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) disclosed their nationwide goal to reduce food loss and waste by half by the year 2030. Their rather hazy plan of action included to seek prevention strategies and use the Food Recovery Hierarchy, increase public awareness, improve data, forge new partnerships and expand existing ones, clarify date labels and food safety and build food loss and waste infrastructures. Although it is great news seeing that the government has finally prepared a proposal when it comes to tackling a problem that dates back to decades, we must face the fact that without us, the people, the government’s initiatives won’t go too far.
What our country and world needs now are inspirited individuals who are ready to come forward with putting simple solutions into practice and with their actions make a monumental impact at all social, environmental and economic levels. These actions are far from daunting and complex; instead you will be surprised that despite their simplicity considerable benefits will automatically out spill from them.
Apply the Food Recovery Hierarchy at home
This framework was created by the EPA and further used by ReFed to help guide actions when it comes to tackling the problem of food waste. By promoting prevention, recovery and lastly recycling the idea behind this system is to first and foremost stop waste from occurring, if this is not possible then to go ahead and distribute food to other people or as a last resort to reuse this food for another purpose.
These three steps can easily be turned into actions by planning your meals and shopping for what’s necessary, enjoying your leftovers or giving them away to someone in need and composting your kitchen waste. It is easy as a pie; plus you will be making a huge positive impact while saving yourself quite some money.
Use the available technology to your advantage
Apps such as Too Good To Go and Olio present a great opportunity to help reducing the amount of food that is usually wasted. Too Good To Go for instance allows you to get your hands on some of the food that has not been sold during the day by local vendors; if you are lucky you can get your hands on some good quality dishes for just a few dollars. Olio on the other hand connects you with neighbors and local shops that have surplus food they want to share rather than dumping it.
Food waste solutions related websites like www.savethefood.com also offer detailed tips on how to reduce your waste at home.
Support the ugly foods sellers
Tons of fruits and vegetables are discarded by either farmers or retail stores for not meeting quality standards. Many of these quality standards have nothing to do with the suitability of the foods for human consumption, but rather with superficial requirements such as that of a pineapple’s crown having the same size as its fruit… yes, who cares about this exactly?
There are startups and out-of-the-box shops that are selling this outcast, yet equally healthy delicious fruits and veggies at remarkably good prices. Imperfect Produce in the bay area is one of them and customers have been enjoying their singular products for the past few years.
Food waste is a problem with no borders, but here in the U.S. we have the big responsibility of getting practically half of our domestic produce out of the landfills and back into people’s mouths. The government might set a 15 year plan of action, but it is in our own hands the power of acting today. Solutions are certainly straightforward and clear given the seemingly complexity of the situation; so get your hands on those funny looking greens and fruits, put your apps to work and remember to be conscious about the food you manage at home.
ReFed (2016) A Road Map to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20 Percent.
Gustavsson J. et al (2011) Global Food Losses and Food Waste: Extent, Cause and Prevention. Dusseldorf, Germany. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Hall, K.D., Guo, J., Dore, M. & Cow, C.C. (2009) The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and its Environmental Impact. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0007940
Ramkumar, A. “America Wastes $160 Billion in Food Every Year But Is Too Busy to Stop” (2016) Bloomberg Markets. Bloomberg Post, 22 July 2016. Web. 16 July 2017. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-07-22/america-wastes-160-billion-in-food-every-year-but-is-too-busy-to-stop
“Under-nutrition contributes to nearly half of all deaths in children under 5 and is widespread in Asia and Africa” Nutrition. UNICEF: Data Monitoring the Situation of Children and Women, June 2017. Web. 16 July 2017.