Last week, we talked about the beauty of ugly produce and what some people around the world are doing to make sure less food (perfectly good food, by the way) goes to waste. They’re giving discounts and creating co-ops to make sure that ugly produce doesn’t end up in landfills. In 2012, it was reported by the Natural Resources Defense Council that about 40 % of all food in the U.S. is wasted (worth an estimated $165 million). The U.N. estimates that about a third of all the food produced in the world goes to waste, creating about 1.3 billion tons of waste per year. According to Jose Graziano da Silva, director general of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, all of this waste would feed the world’s 870 million hungry people, if only it reached them.
But it doesn’t; it never has that impact. But it does impact the world economically and environmentally. What do you think happens to all of that wasted food? It ends up in landfills, deprived of oxygen in its breakdown, so it creates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Every year, that waste creates about 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, “If food waste were a country it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, after China and the United States.”
Think of the water wasted to grow uneaten crops, the fertilizers and pesticides applied that pollute our air, soil and water, fuel used to transport all of that food to be sold to people who then throw it away. In Britain (which has some great data on food waste), each family wastes about 700 pounds of food a year or $1,170 worth of food. Are you beginning to see the economic and environmental effects of all of this waste? It’s kind of hard not to.
So, what’s being done? Countries all over the world, along with prominent businesses, are trying to make some headway.
1. British supermarkets are improving labels and packaging so that consumers throw out less of the food they buy. For example, Tesco, a large supermarket chain in the UK, has changed the way it packages lettuce. It now sells lettuce in bags with two compartments, so that consumers can use one and keep the other fresh. They are also changing some supply processes so that some produce, grapes, for example, arrive 5 to ten days sooner to give customers a longer period to eat them. These are just a few of the ways that Britain has cut its food waste by 21 percent since 2007.
2. In South Korea, garbage disposal is charged by weight. Save more, waste less.
3. In China, the government is asking caterers, restaurants and their own cafeterias to serve smaller portions. They are also working on a law directed at food waste.
4. In Massachusetts, an institution that throws out more than a ton of food waste a week now has to compost that waste. When food is composted, rather than left to decay in a landfill, it doesn’t produce methane because oxygen is present. New York City will have a similar rule in place next year.
Here are a few things you can do:
1. Make a plan or menu for the week before you head to the grocery store. You’ll be less inclined to buy things you don’t need or won’t eat if you have a plan in place.
2. If you have leftovers or enough ingredients to make more of a meal, take it to the freezer! It’s not going to waste when you can eat it later.
3. Start your own compost. It’s not hard, and you can even buy containers that keep everything neat and tidy for you but compost your leftovers safely and without producing methane.
4. Buy some ugly produce! If chances are no one’s going to eat it because it’s got a funny shape–grab it! It tastes just as good and packs as many nutrients as its pretty friends.
5. Put your nose to the test. Just because an item is past its “use by” or “sell by” date, doesn’t mean it isn’t still perfectly fine.