In 2009, more than 30 million tons of food was dumped into landfills, making food the most abundant material there by far. This amounts to roughly 200 pounds a year for every single individual in the United States. Throwing away food means we’re losing money, but more importantly we’re also creating unnecessary waste and greatly contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. To curb this nationwide problem, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute are launching a mega-campaign that aims to increase donations to food banks and composting practices in order to decrease the amount of food sent to landfills.
A large portion of the food that winds up in landfills is thrown away when it is still completely edible, but has minor blemishes or stores are overstocked. This waste could be avoided easily by donating this food to food banks, but changing consumers’ habits at home will be the real challenge. According to one study, Americans throw away roughly 14 percent of the food they purchase, which translates to about $600 a year for a family of four.
The environmental consequences are just as bad. Rotting food in landfills produces significant quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas that has a warming potential 20 times greater than carbon dioxide. On top of that, the amount of food that gets thrown away accounts for 25 percent of the fresh water that’s used in the U.S., meaning we’re wasting a lot of H2), too.
The first step in the war against food waste will be for the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute to conduct a massive survey of the sources of food waste, from the processors and manufacturers to the distributors to the consumers. “This is not a problem that will be solved in three years,” said Meghan Stasz, a sustainability consultant for GMA, to the New York Times.
After the survey, the committee will identify public policies that could help reduce food waste and increase food donations. Then, the group will identify new technologies and practices that would support goals like increased composting and locating food processors, distributors, and restaurants closer to one another.
While the problem of large scale food waste will be an on-going battle, there are things that you can do in your own home to combat the issue. First and foremost, only buy and prepare the amount of food that you and your family will eat. If you have a surplus of canned goods or produce, donate it to a local food bank. As for your food scraps, you can give them to local farmers to feed their animals or you can begin a home composting system.