June 21, 2024

Food waste and its effects

Do you hear that? That distant sound of the violin or was it a cello? It’s not coming from the streets or the rooftops. It’s coming from Cateura, Paraguay. The sound comes from the “Landfill Harmonics.” The sound of our ozone collapsing. It’s not the sound of cars, fires burning or cows farting. 

Instead, it‘s the sound of money going out the window or in this case, the trash. In this village of only 2,500 families, nearly 1,500 pounds of trash is sorted through everyday to create shelters, activities and basic living necessities (UNICEF, 2012). 

We chose the route of convenience rather than conservation of the land and future of our world. What is food waste? Yes, it is the last bit of food you were too full to eat and the one french fry that fell on the floor, but it is much more than that. 

Food waste is the cause of  loss throughout the food system during production, processing, retail and consumption. It happens from the field to the fork in most cases and is the most easily identified. It includes the packaging the food comes in, the rind of that juicy summertime watermelon and the plastic around the god-forsaken “pre-peeled pomegranate at Costco.” 

Wait, isn’t it much easier to not peel a pomegranate and get your favorite white shirt stained? Yes, but at what cost? 

Have we as Americans chosen convenience over the health of our land, our children and our overall health.  Let’s identify the problem within our homes, what the consequences will be and ways to lower annual food waste. Grab your popcorn and let me paint you a picture.  

In our everyday lives, food waste is everywhere. Typically most of our food waste comes from homes for a number of reasons. Americans enjoy the cheapest food supply in the world. Larger portions are typically made and served to family members every night. 

These portions lead to leftovers that aren’t eaten. Food waste unfortunately does not just come from the parts of food we enjoy, but includes the food humans either cannot eat or chose not to eat. This includes removing the skin of fruits and vegetables to prepare a meal, removing the crust of bread, throwing away egg yolks, throwing away seeds (ex: pumpkin seeds especially during Halloween), throwing away stems (ex: carrot, kale, strawberries) and throwing away coffee grounds.

While these can be easily identified as food waste, what about those items that are not so easily identified? Items like plastic bags, food wrapping and inedible items such as bones. The average family uses approximately 1,500 plastic bags related to the food they buy. 

While there may be more media headlines focusing on the release of carbon into the atmosphere, methane is a serious threat to the rising temperature, the air we breath and visibility in large cities. In fact, methane is 84 times more potent than Co2, carbon dioxide according to the Environmental Defence Fund. 

This means as the food we throw away, decomposes and burns, we are slowly killing our planet faster than driving to work 

By yourself with no emission checks

In the United States, the lost or wasted food generates the equivalent of 37 million car’s worth of greenhouse gas emissions. Food waste ends up in landfills which produces large amounts of methane. About 11% of all the greenhouse gas emissions that come from the food system could be reduced if we stop wasting food (WWF). So much of our food supply is wasted to the landfills each year. 

For example, if you look at total land usage, 1.4 billion hectares of land, which is roughly one third of the world’s total agricultural land area, is used to grow food that is wasted.While 750 million families go without food daily, one third of our land used for food production is being wasted which could be used to feed starving children and save our planet. 

We are not only sacrificing our land and our food supply, we are straining our dollar on how much food we buy, calculating the environmental costs and health care costs. By wasting food, we represent a highly inefficient use of our resources including labor, land, water and energy. 

The FAO estimates the environmental cost of food waste at $700 billion per year, which was calculated by quantifying carbon, land, and water costs and potential savings, along with the semi-quantifiable cost factor of biodiversity. (The Economic Review, 2019). 

With food providing nutrition to the soil in the landfills, some people are starving with lack of food. Because malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies become prevalent,  healthcare goes up and individuals affected by these side-effects are no longer able to work. 

It’s a domino effect that starts with last night’s leftovers and toppled over to the environment and health of a nation. 

FAO predicts about $900 billion lost to this social-economic problem that could be solved by consciously deciding where food goes. By throwing out one kilogram of beef, you essentially waste 50,000 liters of water that was used to produce meat. In the same way, nearly 1,000 liters of water is wasted when one glass of milk goes down the drain.

To learn about how to break the cycle of food waste, follow the part 2 in the next edition. Canning,  composting, smart shopping habits plus including the whole family in combatting food waste will be discussed.