Food Waste and Food Loss

I hate food waste.  Recently at lunch with a friend, I was dismayed that her barely touched, beautiful bowl of organic veggies and grains was going in the trash. I asked the server politely if they collected food scraps – and the answer was sadly, no. So I arranged to take the salad home knowing that I would add it to my compost bin. The server returned brightly with a compostable container at least. Sigh.

So this is me now – taking my lunch dates’ remaining food home to compost. Why do restaurants and grocery stores, which exist to sell food – not take responsibility for the waste that their businesses generate?

Now, more than ever, food waste and food loss must be addressed! Food production and transport disruption is a more common occurrence as the effects of extreme climate change unfold in real time. We are witnessing the degradation of viable food producing belts across our country due to drought, flooding, fires, and devastating storms. Our food systems require technological and infrastructural support in anticipation of the future disruptions that are guaranteed on the horizon. Realizing and maximizing the positive impacts of reducing food loss and waste requires good governance and human capital development, as well as collaboration and partnerships.

Organic waste is a valuable resource that once composted, goes back into the earth as a nutrient rich soil amendment – making soil less dependent on chemical fertilizers while increasing soil water retention. Why is soil water retention so important? A combination of short-sighted industrial farming techniques, over farming, extreme heat, drought, and flooding has left soil’s ability to sustain us seriously threatened. When soil can better absorb and retain water it acts like a sponge, giving excess water somewhere to go, hence reducing flooding. In addition, water demands of farming are reduced, and topsoil stays in place rather than being displaced by wind and water. Globally, it is estimated that we have appoximately 60 years of viable topsoil left for farming – which is likely a generous approximation!

The other equally important reason to divert food waste from the landfill bound waste stream is global warming. Rotting organic material makes landfills the third largest methane producer in the US. Methane is a greenhouse gas 28-36 times more potently heat producing in our environment than CO2.

It is estimated that around 14 percent of food produced is lost between harvest and retail globally, while 17 percent of total global food production is wasted. In the U.S., we waste 40 percent of the food we grow. The majority of that waste happens at home and in food service – and that waste costs money! Estimates are that a family of four can save anywhere from $1600 – $2200 a year by not throwing as much food away, and businesses much more.

It’s that 40 percent waste from households that every individual can control. We as the shoppers and household managers must take responsibility for our wasteful habits by:

Organizing and auditing our daily, weekly, monthly food menus and shopping to insure that we are eating or otherwise putting to use the majority of what we purchase.

Finding a compost solution for food scraps so that the food that we toss doesn’t end up rotting in landfills, thus contributing to greenhouse gases heating up our planet.

Purchasing food as locally grown as possible in support the freshest food stock to mitigate CO2 from transport and refrigeration of products shipped from a distance.

Modify our food purchases by supporting fair trade, B Corp, and sustainably sourced products.

Beyond our personal power to reduce food loss and waste, in order to maximize the distribution and use of the food we produce, action is required globally and locally. Key to implementing transformative change are technologies and innovative solutions – including e-commerce platforms for marketing, and retractable mobile food processing systems aiding to management of food quality and reduction of food loss and waste.

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About the Author

Here at Jenny Green Jeans, by sharing success stories and easy-to- implement tips, I hope to inspire and empower you to continue to make sustainable choices in your life and watch how far the impact goes. Please contact me with any questions or suggestions you may have. Also visit the Green Design Goods store for my favorite environmentally sustainable products.

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