Food Waste 101
Did you know that an estimated 40% of all the food produced in our country goes uneaten? Of the food that goes uneaten, around 98% of that ends up in landfills, with nearly 80% of that waste occurring at consumer-facing businesses (restaurants and grocery stores) and in homes. According to a 2016 report focused on food waste, “the United States spends over $218 billion – 1.3% of GDP – growing, processing, transporting, and disposing of food that is never eaten.” Food waste costs a household of four an average of $1,800 annually and squanders immense amounts of resources, including water, land, energy, and food.
When thinking about strategies for addressing food waste, people tend to think about solutions in three categories: reduction, recovery, and diversion. Food waste reduction is simply not generating food waste. Reduction is the most economically and environmentally beneficial approach because it conserves resources, instead of wasting them. Recovery is taking food that is still fit for human consumption and donating it so that it can be consumed by other humans, often those that are food insecure. Food can also be recovered to feed animals. Diversion is the group of strategies that focuses on recycling food waste, such as composting.
Everyone has an opportunity to reduce, recover, and divert food waste. To help understand the strategies for addressing food waste and their benefits, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has created the Food Recovery Hierarchy. The Food Recovery Hierarchy is an inverted pyramid which prioritizes strategies for addressing food waste based on the most beneficial environmental outcome. See the graphic below for more information.
There are a number of actions that you can take to address food waste at home and in your workplace. Below are some simple strategies for reducing and diverting your food waste:
• Plan meals before grocery shopping, so you purchase only what you need.
• Check your refrigerator and pantry when making your shopping list to avoid buying items you already have.
• Order only what you can finish at restaurants, or plan to take home leftovers for a future meal.
• When preparing for a large gathering, plan ahead to prevent from preparing too much food, or identify a donation location for leftovers.
• Store your produce in the right place and at the right temperature so it lasts. Fruits and vegetables should be stored in separate bins and bananas, apples, and tomatoes should be stored by independently.
• When unpacking groceries, move older products to the front of the fridge, freezer, or pantry, and put new products in the back. This is the First In, First Out plan.
• If you have space, a backyard compost bin can be a relatively small one-time investment (or you can even build one yourself) that will allow you to divert food waste from landfills to your backyard. Compost is a great addition to soil and substitute for fertilizer. To learn more on how to build your own backyard compost bin, visit here. You can also join Tennessee Environmental Council’s “Come Post Your Compost” Statewide initiative.