Environmental Impact Of Food Waste

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Food waste’s environmental impact is 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 food waste footprint. In today’s blog, I want to outline the entire issue of 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 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 struggle to get enough calories and nutrients.

Knowing that many people go hungry at the end of the day is 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 of farmers and markets.

tomatoes rotten on vine food waste

Farmers must pick their best-looking produce to send to market. Next, customers (either a person or the produce merchandiser) assess which fruits and vegetables are the best in the market. So, often after a farmers market, or even at the end of the day at a supermarket, you will 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 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 critical for farmers in the countryside to provide food for those in the cities. Transportation from farm to town was difficult in the early days as refrigeration was impossible or easily accessible.

Food waste issues have continued to compound since the early 1900s as the population has grown, spread, and consumed. 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 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 produce is thrown away.

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s estimate of the actual cost of food waste is as follows.

Greenhouse gas Emissions
GHG from deforestation
GHG from managed organic soils
Ammonia Emissions
Pesticides in sources of 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
Erosion (water)
Erosion (wind, very uncertain)
Land occupation (deforestation)
Biodiversity impacts of pesticide use
Biodiversity impacts of nitrate eutrophication
Biodiversity impacts of phosphorus eutrophication
Pollinator losses
Fisheries overexploitation
Livelihood loss
Health damages (well-being loss)
Acute health effects of pesticides
Risk of conflict
Value of products lost and wasted
Subsidies (OECD only)
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 the link above, find the full table and research details on page 66 of the pdf

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

How To Reduce Food Waste

Thankfully, we can do much as individuals, organizations, and municipalities to address wasted food in our ways. In this section, I will mainly 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 advocating more sustainable strategies at the city, state, country, and global levels is vital. More municipalities are offering curbside composting, which reduces some of the items in 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 must be when deciding what goes to market. They can’t bring every piece of fruit to market; even if they did, customers want the best-looking part of the 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 terrific deal on produce if you ask for their “edible but ugly” produce. The farmer wants to profit from the crop, and you can get a discount. Best of all, no food is thrown in the trash.

Not everyone can work with a farmer, buy a CSA basket, or even find a farmer’s 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 food waste.

Use Your Freezer

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

If you’re finding that produce goes bad before eating 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 easily tossed into a dish at a moment’s notice.

Side Note

Learn how to make soup!

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

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

I’ve also turned to my freezer to save cooked meals. I used to think I was meal-prepping 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.

Compost At Home

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

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

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


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

Thankfully there are a few options to help you address the waste in your home. However, it is crucial 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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