Food is essential for life. Every living creature on Earth must eat. Animals, in general, can scavenge or hunt for food to sustain themselves.
Most animals consume all of the food they find. On the other hand, humans, especially in the United States, consume more than they need to survive.
Going shopping for our weekly grocery haul or deciding to dine out for the evening, the amount of food we gather or are served tends to be more than we can reasonably consume.
Whether it is leftovers shoved to the back of the fridge or forgotten grocery items that have expired, this food ends up in the trash as food waste.
In the U.S., we throw away so much spoiled, half-eaten, and leftover food that we could power the entire country of Switzerland for one year with the embedded energy in that food. We call this Food Waste.
What is Food Waste?
Each year Americans throw away 30-40% of food that is supposed to be consumed. We dispose of more food than glass, metal, plastic, or paper, and that waste percentage has tripled since the 1950s.
Even our average food portions have quadrupled since the 1950s. When food gets wasted, it also wastes the water, money, and fuel it takes to grow, store, transport, and sell the food we are supposed to consume.
To exacerbate the problem of food waste, 49 million Americans live in households that are food insecure, meaning they are unsure of how they will be able to put a meal on the table.
How Does Wasted Food Affect the Environment?
When we dispose of uneaten, rotten, and forgotten food products, it is more than last week’s casserole or a half-eaten sandwich going in the garbage can. Every food item must come from a variety of sources before it arrives at your home.
From farmers to delivery drivers, manufacturing companies to grocery stores, many different aspects of the food production process contribute to your meals. The effort, money, fuel, and other resources used to bring you the food that is now being thrown into a garbage bag headed for a landfill is also wasted.
Let’s put this into some real-world examples:
- 45 gallons of water are needed to produce one glass of orange juice
- The energy required to produce the 24.4 billion pounds of wasted dairy products could meet the entire world’s energy needs for one full day
- Food typically travels 1500+ miles from farm to table
- Bananas go even further since most of produced near the equator
- Diners in restaurants leave an average of 17% of their meals uneaten, and 55% of those leftovers are not taken home
- Of those who do take their leftovers home, 38% of people report not having consumed those leftovers
- 44% of Americans have forgotten about a food item in their fridge and have needed to throw it away
- ⅔ of household waste is due to food spoilage
- ⅓ of household waste is caused by cooking/serving too much food
All of this information can be shocking and difficult to absorb fully, but the truth is that we must all do our part to ensure that less food (and the accompanying money, energy, and resources) is wasted in our homes.
How Can I Limit My Food Waste?
Suppose every household in America did its part to limit the amount of food wasted daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. In that case, we can reduce our consumption of energy and resources needed to produce the food.
Here are several easy ways for you and your family to reduce the amount of food wasted in your home:
- Make less food: It’s always nice to have enough food from a particular recipe to last for a few days, but your family must eat the prepared food. Half or quarter the recipe if you have found that you have too many leftovers.
- Take inventory before grocery shopping: If you already know what is in your refrigerator, you will not mistakenly buy extra that will inevitably go unused before its expiration date.
- Plan out your meals: When you know exactly what ingredients you will need for your planned meals for the week, you will avoid over-buying items that you will likely not need to use.
- Bring home restaurant leftovers: Most restaurants will serve you more food than you could eat in one sitting. If you do not finish your meal, bring it home with you, and don’t forget to eat it!
- Ask for a smaller portion: If you don’t want to take home leftovers, ask for a smaller portion from the restaurant.
These are all practical and easy ways to limit the amount of food you and your family waste. While one person alone cannot change the food waste problem in the United States, the combination of everyone’s efforts can truly make a difference.