Food waste and food loss are significant problems increasing each and every day. In developing countries, a lot of food is eaten by pests or spoils due to lack of refrigeration before it even reaches the market. But this is also a problem in developed nations, including the United States, in which consumers buy more than they need and end up throwing away uneaten portions or spoiled goods. Besides the economic and social consequences of this phenomenon, it also has a deleterious effect on the environment.
The Waste Cycle
According to one report, about one-third of all food produced worldwide, worth a whopping $1 trillion USD, ends up going to waste. If that’s not shocking enough, think about the fact that more than a billion people per year could be fed using this amount of foodstuffs, which is coincidentally roughly the same as the number of individuals globally who suffer from hunger.
The burning of fossil fuels used throughout the production and delivery processes accelerates climate change, and food waste’s contribution is significant – as discarded organic materials rot and decay in landfills, it releases methane and other greenhouse gases. According to Dominion, in total, a surplus of 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide arises from food waste annually, making it one of the leading contributors to greenhouse gases. Moreover, all this extra production of ultimately unused food places pressure on arable land, and as the severity of droughts increase, both freshwater and viable land become scarce commodities resulting in the threat of increased deforestation.
Many supermarkets and restaurants have acknowledged the issue of food waste and are starting to do their part to combat this problem. Through innovative mobile applications, they’re allowing regular people and charitable organizations to access their unwanted food at reduced prices or sometimes even for free. This year, the United States Department of Agriculture announced a goal of reducing food waste by 50 percent, and through partnerships with state and local governments, private industry, nonprofits and other groups, is working to achieve this goal by 2030.
You don’t have to leave it to large organizations to take charge in this area, though; there’s plenty you can do on your own, in your own home!
Instead of looking for picture-perfect fruits and vegetables, you can purchase those that have tiny blemishes – especially considering the typical consumer is superficial with produce selections. After all, you’ll be eating them, not setting up photo shoots with them. It’s important to buy only what you will actually use, and only non-perishables in bulk, so try to shop on a full stomach to reduce temptation.
When you get your groceries home, be aware of how to properly store items and remember to refrigerate meat and certain other products to prevent spoilage. Be aware that printed expiration dates are just guidelines – you can trust your senses to alert you to food that’s not good to eat. Make an effort to actually eat your leftovers: If you throw them away, then it would have been far better for you to prepare smaller portion sizes in the first place. Keep notes on your leftover habits so you can determine better portion sizes for next time.
Despite your best efforts, you’ll probably be left with some food that you don’t want or are unable to finish off yourself. Try donating it to local charities, which will deliver it to those in need. Additionally, composting is always a great option as it allows you to reduce food waste and what you send to landfills, while simultaneously enhancing the quality of the soil in your lawn or garden.
There are also a number of mobile apps worth mentioning for the tech savvy. Green Egg Shopper will aid you in determining realistic expiration dates instead of relying upon the sell by dates provided by the manufacturers. Locavore contains listings of farmer’s markets and other local places to get food besides the supermarket, as well as seasonal recipes. And the Home Composting app is a thorough how-to guide for everything you wanted to know about composting at home.
Be the Change
By acting now to reduce food waste, we’ll be able to feed more people with less land: an important consideration as populations increase. At the same time, we’ll be reducing the potentially catastrophic effects of global warming by eliminating some of the deleterious greenhouse gases emitted as thrown-away food decomposes. A reduction in food waste combined with the growing availability of renewable energy, such as solar and hydroelectric power, means that the entire field of agriculture can be transformed to become more environmentally-friendly.
While some people focus on high-tech, pie-in-the-sky ideas for counteracting environmental degradation, the most effective remedies will probably turn out to be simple steps that anyone can make. By just exercising a little bit of care with your food purchasing and consumption habits, you can take charge of your own lifestyle and lower the amount of food you waste. It may seem like it won’t make much of a difference, but if millions of people enact similar changes, together we’ll be able to make a positive contribution to the world.