Posted by Julia Wu
Too much food is ending up in landfills.
In the United States, 40% of the food we produce is going to waste. On top of that, 90% of this wasted food in the U.S. ends up in landfills, and is the biggest occupant of these landfills.
Food waste produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
When food waste is thrown away and sent to landfills, this waste decomposes in the absence of oxygen. This process results in the production of methane, which is 23 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Landfills account for almost 25% of the U.S.’s methane emissions. Decomposition also takes a lot longer in landfills; a head of lettuce can take up to 25 years to break down in a landfill (Wasted).
The food industry’s labeling system is also responsible for food waste.
Those “best by” and “sell by” dates are set by manufacturers and do not necessarily address the safety and shelf life of food. It’s estimated that 20% of all food waste comes from consumer misunderstanding of these date labels.
Food waste is costly, but large-scale solutions are profitable.
The average American family spends $1,500 per year on wasted food. Some companies have capitalized on this problem, and have begun to turn food waste into products like compost, fertilizer and animal feed–on average, they have seen a $14 return for every $1 invested (Wasted).
We can take steps to reduce our food waste.
There are great resources available for consumers and businesses. Locally, the Los Angeles Food Policy Council has a Los Angeles Area Food Recovery Guide. The EPA also has a food recovery hierarchy that prioritizes actions that will reduce wasted food and is ordered in best to worst management strategies. Big steps to manage surplus food include reducing the amount of extra food generated, ensuring that surplus food goes to hungry people, feeding it to livestock to turn it back into edible food, using it to generate energy, or allowing it to turn into nutrient-rich soil.
Even small steps can make a difference in reducing our collective food waste.
Some ideas you can implement today, from our friends at the LA Food Policy Council and our own staff: Plan meals and be mindful of portion sizes; make shopping lists to avoid buying more than needed; properly store produce and leftovers; use vegetable and other scraps in soups and other dishes or to make stocks. Bonus: in addition to reducing your individual carbon footprint, you’ll save money. Next step: consider a composting system at home and at work.