Food waste is a massive problem globally, and you’ve probably heard about it plenty of times. It is especially prevalent in the US, who leads the world in food waste annually.
There are plenty of reasons why we need to fight food waste. For one, the gasses it releases can be harmful to the environment, a major contributor to climate change. Plus, there are thousands of Americans starving right now who could really use that food. And think of all of the labor, time, and money that is wasted when we don’t eat the food we buy.
If so many Americans could use this food, why do we waste so much of it? Well, that comes down to two factors: personal and corporate practices. While we as a whole are responsible for food waste, the majority of it actually comes from companies and businesses that handle food.
But don’t despair just yet. Let’s take a look at the facts of food waste, why it happens, and what we can do about it here in the US.
80 billion pounds of food are thrown away each year in the US— this is enough food to fill 1,000 Empire State Buildings, and is equal to about 161 billion dollars worth of food. Nearly 40% of the food we produce never gets eaten. Imagine leaving the grocery store with five bags, and just dropping two of them in the parking lot and walking away— that’s how much food we waste. In fact, there is so much food waste that it takes up the most space in our landfills. So why do we throw away this much food? Well, here’s a few reasons:
- Misunderstood labels: Many people throw away food that they think is expired when it’s actually still good to eat, because they don’t understand the meaning of its labels.
- Scraps and leftovers: Portions of food that aren’t as savory, or the stuff we have left over, tend to be tossed out and forgotten, by people and businesses alike.
- Overstocking: Many food sellers will overstock on perishable foods, because consumers are more likely to buy off of a full shelf. This means that the unbought food ends up being thrown away.
- Produce aestheticism: Produce makes up a very large part of our food waste, and a big reason for this is that we won’t eat fruit that looks even slightly unappealing, even if it’s perfectly safe to eat. The USDA has strict standards, and as soon as a fruit drops below number one, it loses two thirds of its market value, and never even makes it to shelves.
Ways to combat food waste at home
Combatting food waste is something that businesses and consumers need to work together to do. But there are a few things you can do at home to help lessen food waste.
For one, learn the difference between “best by” or “sell by” and “expires on.” A lot of food that is past its sell-by date is still perfectly edible. A sell-by date is simply the last day that a store thinks its product will be in peak condition for sale. However, the real expiration date usually isn’t until at least a week after that.
Also, be open to buying the less “pretty” produce— this might encourage businesses to stock more of the things that might otherwise have been thrown away.
You could also start a compost pile for all your scraps and leftovers. If you have a garden, this is a great and cheap way to fertilize your plants. Plus, it provides the food with a good space to decompose instead of being thrown in a suffocating landfill.
Lastly, you can freeze food that you may not eat right away. This will allow it to stay good longer, and lessen the chances of it ending up in the trash.
What can businesses do?
If we really want to address food waste and work towards a sustainable future, businesses that handle food need to make a lot of changes. Here are a few of them:
- Give excess food to food redistribution banks. These places take leftover, but still edible, food and redistribute it to those in need. This is a two-in-one: it helps fight food waste and hunger at the same time. Places like these are all over the country, like the Colorado Springs Food Rescue.
- Stock less “appealing” produce. This goes hand in hand with consumers being willing to buy it. But if both parties can change their habits, it means that a lot more fruit will make it to shelves instead of being thrown away.
- Turn food into energy. When food decomposes in an open-air environment, it gives off gases that can be turned into energy. Businesses can work with companies that turn food into energy, which in turn gives them a sustainable energy source.
- Work with groups like the Food Recovery Network, which work in one specific field— in this case, college dining halls— to prevent and redistribute food waste. This is a great way to address one portion of the problem, which helps put more effort into making change in that area.
- Get a Mama Gaia fridge in your business. We’re a zero food waste company, and we donate all our leftovers straight back into the community through local food banks.
Clearly, food waste is a big issue, and if it’s not addressed soon, it could have terrible consequences. But if we all work together, we can combat food waste, redistribute food to those in need, and work towards a more sustainable future.