A Big Problem: Food Waste

Recently we have seen a lot of news articles focused on food waste.  Many studies are quoted, a lot of numbers are cited – dollars, percentages and weight.

An Australian e-newsletter, Inside Waste Weekly spoke about the sheer amount of waste produced in their country.

Research by The Australia Institute shows Australians are dumping $5.2 billion worth of food annually. That exceeds the amount consumers spend annually on digital equipment such as flat screen TVs, and would be enough to meet the shortfall in the United Nations Emergency Relief Fund.

That is astonishing.  They waste more food than what is spent on electronics?  The amount of food wasted by just one country could fill the Relief Fund?  Amazing.

A 2004 University of Arizona study concluded that America wastes nearly half of its food.  (Half?  That seems like a huge number!)  However, this study includes food waste from farms and production facilities that never gets to a consumer.  On average, US households waste 14 percent of their food purchases. Fifteen percent of that includes products still within their expiration date but never opened.  Household food waste is approximately $43 billion annually.

A recent article about food waste in Britain states that they waste $20 billion in consumable food and drink each year.  The annual weight of this food waste is about 6.6 billion tons.  These numbers are based on a recent British study on food waste.  The study is 95 pages and shows different food categories by ‘breakdown by avoidability’ and ‘breakdown by reason for disposal’.

But what about the breakdown of waste – what is actually thrown away?

Fruit and vegetables make up the bulk of wasted food at $1.1 billion, followed by restaurant and take away food that is bought but left unfinished, and $872.5 million worth of fresh meat and fish thrown out every year. – Australia

Have you ever done that?  Bought something at the grocery store and didn’t eat it, or forgot you had it, then threw it away – completely untouched.  How many doggie bags have I brought home with the good intentions of eating the rest tomorrow, or taking it to lunch – but it just sits in my refrigerator until I ‘remember’ its there.  Then, it’s too late.  It’s turned bad.

Both the Australian and British articles quote surveys saying the even though consumers know how to avoid wasting food, their actions often don’t match their thinking.  I think most of us in US are the same way.  We know the best thing to do is to plan weekly menus, take a shopping list, make plans to reuse leftovers.  Unfortunately, we don’t do this.

Right now there is a huge push to collect food waste and compost it.  This can be done either at home or through your local trash hauler or compost facility.  Is this the best answer? If we continue to waste at this rate, can we compost all of this food waste?

The first and best thing we can do is REDUCE the amount of food we purchase/discard.  By reducing food waste at the source, we will have less waste overall.  We won’t need to source new landfills or build costly new recycle/compost facilities.  So, plan out those weekly menus, make a shopping list and stick to it.

REUSE.  Look for creative ways to use leftovers like this article: 50 ways to never waste food again We’ve blogged about this article before, but it’s work mentioning again.

The next best thing we do is to RECYCLE/compost any food waste that couldn’t be reduced.  Check with your local trash hauler or compost facility.  Try www.findacomposter.com Do they charge extra for food waste vs. yard waste?  Can you get credits for composting?  After the material has been fully composted, can you purchase back a bag for your garden? (or get it at a discounted rate, or better yet – free?)

All good things to think about.  Remember the saying “Reduce Reuse Recycle“?  It applies to food waste too…

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