Environmental Impact Of Food Waste

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes



The environmental impact of food waste is both devastating but we can make a difference. Thankfully, there are many things that we can do in our own homes and apartment to reduce our own personal food waste footprint. In today’s blog, I want to outline the full issue when it comes to wasted food. Then, after you feel a little bummed out, I’ll provide three ways to make the most of the food you buy.

Let’s dig into the problem so we can start digging ourselves out.

Why Food Waste Is A Problem

Food waste in the United States presents both a humanitarian and environmental problem in the United States. Many people like to believe that the only starving children are in countries overseas. Sadly, many people of all ages and backgrounds struggle with food insecurity. Children, adults and the elderly can all struggle getting enough calories and nutrients.

Knowing that many people go hungry at the end of the day is made worse because so much edible food is thrown away daily. Expiration dates protect consumers but cause a lot of food waste. Another cause of food waste is the level of perfection expected for farmers and markets.

tomatoes rotten on vine food waste

Farmers must pick their best-looking produce to send to market. Next, at the market, customers (either a person or the produce merchandiser) assess which fruits and vegetables are the best. So, often after a farmers market, or even at the end of the day at a supermarket, you fill find a dumpster full of edible, unsold food.

How Long Has Food Waste Been A Problem?

Food waste has long been an issue since people have moved to the city and stopped living on the land. The Love Food Not Waste Campaign sites 1915 as the definitive time food waste became a problem. As populations boomed it became more important for farmers in the countryside to provide food for those in the cities. Transportation from farm to city was difficult in the early days as refrigeration was not possible or easily accessible.

Food waste issues have continued to compound since the early 1900s as the population has grown, spread, and consumes. Every day millions of pounds of food are transported across the world. Millions of people across the United States enter the supermarket to purchase bags of fruits, vegetables, and more. Sadly, nearly half of all the food grown, produced, and purchased will never get eaten.

Environmental Impact Of Food Waste

Growing food for the billions of people and animals living on this planet expends an unbelievable amount of energy. Sadly, the energy from the soil, humans, and fossil fuels to grow these vegetables are wasted. Much of the food we grow is thrown away.

The Food and Agriculture organization’s estimate of the true cost of food waste as follows

Atmosphere
Greenhouse gas Emissions
GHG from deforestation
GHG from managed organic soils
Ammonia Emissions
$395$58-1,940
Water
Pesticides in sources drinking water
Pesticides in sources of drinking water
Nitrate in sources of drinking water
Pollution impacts of N eutrophication
Pollution impacts of P eutrophication
Water use (irrigation water)
Water scarcity
$196$4-17
Soil
Erosion (water)
Erosion (wind, very uncertain)
Land occupation (deforestation)
$73$14-140
Biodiversity
Biodiversity impacts of pesticide use
Biodiversity impacts of nitrate eutrophication
Biodiversity impacts of phosphorus eutrophication
Pollinator losses
Fisheries overexploitation
$32$1-25
Social
Livelihood loss
Health damages (well-being loss)
Acute health effects of pesticides
Risk of conflict
$882
Economic
Value of products lost and wasted
Subsidies (OECD only)
$1055
Sub-total environmental costs$696
Sub-total social costs$882
Sub-total economic costs$1055
Total costs (all categories)$2,625 ($2,625,000,000.00)
Click on link above, find full table and research details on page 66 of the pdf

The environmental impact of food waste is huge and is estimated to cost us over 2.6 trillion dollars. This doesn’t even include the environmental cost to produce the food. People in our own communities starve as individuals, markets, and farmers throw food in the trash. This wasted food then produces methane and other greenhouse gasses, contributing to climate change.

How To Reduce Food Waste

Thankfully there is a lot we can do as individuals, organizations, and municipalities to address wasted food in our own ways. In this section I will mostly focus on ways that we as individuals can take action. This is a behavior you can immediately change in your own life.

I still think it is important that we advocate more sustainable strategies at the city, state, country, and global level. More municipalities are offering curbside composting which reduces some of the items in the landfill. This is just the start of what we can do to address this issue.

So, after you contact your local officials, these are some things you can do to reduce food waste in your own home.

Purchase Ugly Fruits & Vegetables

First, when you go to the store, don’t be afraid to purchase that ugly fruit or vegetable item. Anecdotally, i’ve worked with farmers during the harvest. I witnessed how selective farmers have to be when deciding what goes to market. They can’t bring every piece of fruit to market, and even if they did – customers want the best looking piece of produce.

pears in box some dented and bruised waste causes a big environmental impact

If you can find or afford to purchase directly from a farmer, you can often get a very, very good deal on produce if you ask for their “edible but ugly” produce. The farmer wants to make some sort of profit on the produce, and you can get a deal. Best of all, no food is thrown in the trash.

Now, not everyone can work with a farmer, buy a CSA basket, or even find a farmers market. A simple everyday thing you can do is look for the product that is most ‘unique’ or has ‘character’. If more consumers did not hold produce to such a high standard, we could avoid a lot of food waste.

Use Your Freezer

Next, when you get those unique and interesting pieces of produce home, you can’t let them go to waste. Don’t be the person who aspires to eat fruits and vegetables just to see most of it goes to waste. The best thing you can do besides eating it right away is to freeze it for the future.

If you’re finding that produce goes bad before you can eat it, see if you can find a frozen product at the store. This simple switch has saved me a lot of food and money. Frozen broccoli, cauliflower, green beans and more are easy to toss in a dish at a moments notice.

Side Note

Learn how to make soup!

You can easily make a good soup out of produce that is about to go bad.

If you want to go the extra mile, you can also use your vegetable scraps to make your own stock.

I’ve also turned to my freezer to save cooked meals. I used to think I was meal prepping, just to see that a lot of food was in the trash can at the end of the week. Instead, I make enough soup to freeze an extra portion or two. On a rainy day in the future, I will thank myself for saving a few bowls of homemade soup.

Your freezer is a way for future past you to help future you.

Compost At Home

You do not need a big yard in the country to compost your food waste. You can actually compost in an old plastic kitty litter bucket in your small urban apartment. Through methods like vermicomposting, many people are able to compost their food scraps at home.

Composting with red worms can help you get rid of food and paper waste in your own home. The resulting product is a fertilizer you can use on your houseplants. Many people worry that it will be a stinky nightmare that will draw pests.

However, with the right food and bedding maintenance, the process is odor-free and unnoticeable. If you want to learn more about how you can turn your food waste into nutrient treasure, check out my getting started guide.

Summary

The environmental impact of food waste is a big problem here in America and across the world. We must address this problem because we need to tackle global warming and climate change from a variety of angles.

Thankfully there are a few options to help you address your own waste in your own home. However, it is important that we also continue to advocate that our cities provide municipal programs and environmentally friendly pick-up options.

Until then share how you reduce food waste in the comments below.
What strategies are you using? What’s working for you?

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