With Thanksgiving feasts headlining this month’s activities, November’s Ambassador Challenge tackles the problem of food waste. Between residential, commercial, and institutional pathways, nearly 40% of all food produced in the US goes unsold or uneaten.
The average American throws away over a pound of food per day.
That pound of food has even heavier consequences. Farming, harvesting, delivering, packaging, storing – all of these resource intensive processes are devoted to food even before it reaches our table. When food is wasted, it’s a drain on natural resources like the water, land, fertilizers, energy, gasoline, and labor necessary for making any meal. Between 2018 and 2019, 18% of US cropland and 14% of freshwater was dedicated to the production of uneaten food.
Food waste has a growing burden on the environment when you consider the production and trashing of packaging materials – like that plastic covering a forgotten bag of spinach. The standard destination of unwanted food is landfills.
What’s the harm in throwing away food if it’s biodegradable?
When food waste ends up in landfill, it decomposes anaerobically and releases methane emissions, a greenhouse gas that is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period and 84 times more on a 20-year scale. Worldwide, 8.2% of greenhouse gas emissions result from food waste alone.
What can you do to reduce your food waste?
Buy only what you need and don’t overstock your fridge with foods that will go bad before you have the opportunity to use them. Planning out meals and portions can help control for the quantities of food purchased. This is particularly important for Thanksgiving when we make mounds of food that make for a decadent day but a wasteful day after.
Eliminating food waste is nearly impossible, but there’s an easy way to reduce its impact! The most circular option in reducing food waste is composting, a natural form of giving back to the Earth. It turns organics into valuable resources and will help reduce methane and greenhouse gas emissions; reduce reliance on synthetic fertilizers; and add nutrients back to our soil. Implementing a composting program also keeps heavy food waste out of the trash and landfills. If setting up a compost isn’t easy for your household, check to see what your municipality offers! Some townships provide pickups. There are also private groups that offer collection services. Even some grocery stores and restaurants offer compost bins so that you can drop-off your food scraps.
This isn’t just a single-person issue - food service businesses, hotels, hospitals, prisons, schools, and restaurants that serve their meals buffet- or cafeteria-style rely on estimates of how much food consumers want to eat, often putting out more than is consumed. Grocery stores are required to discard food that’s expired or spoiled. But as an individual, there’s steps we can take to make an impact.
A Food-Waste Free Thanksgiving
Let's practice minimizing our food waste this November! We've created a Strategy Guide with key steps that should help make sure we're not creating any unnecessary waste.
For this month's challenge, download and complete the Strategy Guide, and submit it through the Work Report at the end of the month. If you don't celebrate Thanksgiving, try completing the guide for one of your bigger meals.