Food Waste: The Problem and What We Can Do About It

Food Waste: The Problem and What We Can Do About It

There was a time [not too long ago] when I wouldn’t have thought twice about throwing away the ends of the bread loaf or the bag of wilted spinach, and I have most definitely been guilty of tossing leftovers that I willfully ignored until they were no longer edible. But now, every time I throw away food – even into the compost bin – it is a reminder of my life of excess which provides me with so much food that I’m letting it go bad and throwing it away, and even more importantly, it is a reprimand for not being a responsible consumer of one of life’s most essential resources. Needless to say, I don’t throw food away without feeling badly about it anymore.

As a family, we began actively trying to reduce our waste [in general] at the start of 2018. To be honest, food waste wasn’t a primary focus until a few months ago when I read statistics about food waste in America being as high as 40% [read it for yourself here].

I am APPALLED at that number – especially when I think of the 49 million Americans who struggle to put food on the table , not to mention the millions around the world who will go to bed hungry tonight. And here I am, throwing out grapes because they are a little squishy…

Part of the solution to this problem is recognizing that I am a contributor to the food waste problem in the world and accepting that it is my responsibility to reduce my waste as much as I am capable.

So, in our home, we’ve been taking extra measures to reduce our food waste. I’m going to share them below, but before I do, here are the statistics that I hope you will find as shocking as I did and will motivate you to join the cause.

Food Waste Statistics

The waste is HUGE.

  • An estimated 40% of food in America is wasted. (Source: NRDC.org, read it here.)
  • On average, 197 pounds of perfectly good food goes to landfills EVERY DAY. (Source: FeedingAmerica.org)

The problem is serious, and seriously EXPENSIVE.

  • Approximately $161 billion worth of food is wasted each year in the US. (Source: USDA, read it here.)
  • Food waste is costly to our environment as well – using 21% of fresh water, 18% of crop land, and taking up 21% of our landfills. (Source: ReFED)
  • We are paying $218 billion annually to produce and ship and dispose of food.

American consumers, businesses, and farms spends $218 billion a year, or 1.3% of GDP, growing, processing, transporting, and disposing food that is never eaten. That’s 52 million tons of food sent to landfill annually, plus another 10 million tons that is discarded or left unharvested on farms. Meanwhile, one in seven Americans is food insecure.” ReFED.com

The biggest problem is in American homes – not grocery stores and restaurants.

  • 43% of wasted food is happening at the consumer level.

The chart above, from FeedingAmerica.org, shows the breakdown of where the food waste is happening.

What you can do about it

1. Buy only what you need. Only buy enough fresh food to last you a week or two, depending on the item’s shelf life. Then EAT IT. Don’t stock up on foods with expiration dates unless you are certain you will eat them.

2. Eat leftovers – including leftovers from restaurants. Store them in clear containers so you know what you have available in your fridge. Set up a “first in, first out” rule, eating oldest leftovers first.

3. Store food properly. Prolong the life of your fresh foods by storing them properly.

4. Freeze or preserve excess. When foods are nearing their expiration, eat or freeze or preserve them. Don’t just let them rot and then toss them in the trash.

5. Take inventory regularly. Make it a habit to frequently take inventory of the contents in your fridge and freezer and pantry – noting expiration dates – so that you know what you have, what needs to be eaten soon, and what you need to purchase.

6. Compost your food scraps. Composting is not as intimidating as it sounds and while it is easier to do if you own land, there are a growing number of urban composting resources to help you compost in your apartment or townhome or penthouse with a view. [Read this article by The Washington Post about how to get started.]

7. Donate to organizations that are rescuing food like Feeding America and ReFED. Look for organizations in your area and donate or volunteer.

8. Spread the word. We all have a sphere of influence and are capable of multiplying our impact by encouraging our social circles to join us in ending food waste.

Food is one of life’s most vital resources. Let’s not waste it.

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Karis