Wasting food is a tremendous problem in the United States. In 2010, nearly 133 billion pounds of food ended up in American landfills. This represents more than $160 billion of food.
Policy analyst Kai Olson-Sawyer said, “There’s no benefit to wasting food. The fact is that food waste is truly a waste to all humanity of every kind.”
Making matters worse is that it’s not just food that is wasted, but resources as well. Everything that went into making that piece of rotten fruit or those old leftovers is also wasted. Much of these resources are water, so whenever food is wasted, water is wasted as well. Additionally, some foods require more resources than others.
Meat is generally the worst kind of food that can be wasted. Animals rely on food and water to grow. When meat is thrown out, all of that food and water is wasted as well. The average American wastes 11 pounds of beef every year. This represents nearly 20,000 gallons of water. Beef wastage is particularly bad, as almost one-quarter of all beef goes uneaten.
Nuts also require large amounts of water. In order to produce a single pound of almonds, more than 2,000 gallons of water are required. Throwing out a single package of almonds is therefore incredibly wasteful. But luckily almonds are not very perishable, and they can last for a long time.
Fruit, vegetables and dairy generally account for the majority of all consumer waste. In 2010, 25% of every pound of apples were wasted. It takes 25 gallons of water to produce a single pound.
As for eggs, a single egg requires about 50 gallons of water to be produced. Considering that, perhaps one should be more careful the next time they crack an egg.
And it’s not just the wasting of water that is a major problem. Decomposed food in landfills releases methane into the atmosphere, causing substantial damage to the ozone layer. In fact, if all of the world’s food waste came from a single country, that country would immediately become the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.
For now, the United States Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency are doing everything they can to lessen the country’s amount of food waste. The two agencies have called for a 50% reduction of food waste by 2030.
A few years ago, the city of Portland started a citywide composting program. This had a strong effect at putting waste to good use. Additionally, some stores across the country have been opened to sell discarded food at extremely affordable prices, in order to prevent it from being wasted.
Other simple changes have also been made. At college cafeterias, students have been encouraged to use plates instead of trays. The cafeterias are still all-you-can eat, but having to carry the food on a plate has made students more considerate about the amount they put onto their plates. Some colleges have stated that they reduced food waste by up to 30% using this program.
While some food waste is inevitable, Olson-Sawyer believes that it could be greatly reduced.
“There’s never going to be some ideal or perfect way to eliminate it all, but it’s pretty egregious right now. There’s enough food in the world today for everyone to have the nourishment necessary for a healthy and productive life.”
For now, everyone from consumers to retailers to suppliers should work on reducing food waste. It’s more than just simply wasting food, it’s wasting an incredible amount of resources. By making simple changes, together we can ensure that allocated resources aren’t wasted.