Does Food Waste Really Matter?

Dear Sustainability Sam,

I have heard that food waste creates greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to global heating and climate change.  Can you explain why?

Jen

Dear Jen,

What a great question to get right before the holidays kick in and we all start gathering and cooking and eating!  You are correct that the greenhouse gas emissions from food waste impact climate change and here’s why in a nutshell:

It takes a lot of fresh water and energy to produce food. When food is wasted, the water, energy, and fossil fuels that it took to grow, harvest, package and transport that food is wasted as well.  In addition, when that wasted food ends up in a landfill, it produces methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. About 11% of all the greenhouse gas emissions that come from the food system could be reduced if we stop wasting food. In the US alone, the production of lost or wasted food generates the equivalent of 37 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions (worldwildlife.org).

About 40% of all food in America is wasted.  This is equal to 63 million tons of food every year (Washington Post). That is an astounding fact!  The average person wastes 25% of the food they buy which amounts to up to $1,500 per year for a family of 4 (Savethefood.com). Food is the number one item in America’s landfills, taking up 21% of landfill’s volume. In Minneapolis, even with organics recycling available, 19% of the trash sent to the incinerator downtown is wasted food. 

While a lot of food waste occurs during production and transport to grocery stores and restaurants, quite a bit occurs at the consumer level and there are several simple things we can do to cut down on our food waste.

  1.  Keep a food waste journal for a week or two.  This will help you to understand what food you are wasting and why.  Once you understand more about what types of food you are wasting and why you can be a more conscientious shopper and consumer of the food you buy.
  2. Take stock of the pantry before shopping.  How many times have you bought a loaf of bread only to realize you had a whole loaf still in the cupboard when you got home?  Knowing what you have in the house will help you not to overbuy at the grocery store. 
  3. Plan your meals.  Meal planning ensures you are only buying the ingredients you need and in the quantities that you need them.  If you tend to overbuy in order to be sure you have enough food, try the Food Guest-imator at savethefood.com. This handy survey helps you to buy the right amount of food for the right amount of people. You can also program it to calculate and estimate for leftovers!  https://savethefood.com/guestimator. This is a great tool to use when planning and hosting a holiday meal!
  4. Learn the best food storage techniques.  This will help you lengthen the life of the food you buy and prevent less waste due to spoilage.  Here are two resources for learning about food storage:  https://freshfoodmatters.subzero-wolf.com. and https://savethefood.com/storage.
  5. Trust your smell and taste more than the sell by dates on the packaging.  Sell by dates, use by dates, and best if used by dates are not regulated terms.  Much perfectly good food is wasted just because the use by date on the packaging passes.  Use your senses to determine what food is good and what should be thrown out.
  6. Organics recycling. Sign up for a green cart from the City of Minneapolis and get your food waste composted.  The food in the green bin is sent to a commercial composting facility and turned into rich and nutrient-filled compost, some of which is returned to gardens and green spaces in Minneapolis.  Find out more at https://www.tangletown.org/program-initiatives/sustainability/.
  1. Use your scraps. Preparing some recipes (especially those used at Thanksgiving) creates a lot of scraps.  Don’t let them go to waste!  Use them in recipes instead of wasting them.  Find ideas to use them up at https://eatingwell.com/foodscraps/ or https://savethefood.com/recipes/

If you really want to start monitoring your food waste, I recommend you take the month long I Value Food Challenge at https://challenge.ivaluefood.com.  If you do it, send us your results and let us know how it went!  We’d love to hear from you!

Want to learn more about how to reduce your environmental impact in the kitchen? Attend our Sustainability Cooking Class November 15! Learn more here.

Sincerely,

Sustainability Sam

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