I have a simple question to get your fruit juices flowing: Would you trash food during a famine? NO! Of course not… Today I want to focus on one consumer problem -and one of my biggest petpeeves- food waste.
Imagine you just ordered a delicious chocolate orange torta (insert your favorite sweet treat). Envision the buttery crust, the fresh zesty scent, and the silky rich mousse. Photo ready… Inches from your fork and eager taste buds, consider the love, the time, and the energy necessary to grow, harvest, and craft this mouthwatering piece of art.
Now imagine that you cut the pie into thirds and you put an entire piece into your trash bin. Wholesome food that could have helped feed families in need is sent to landfills everyday. The USDA reported that globally nearly 31% (1.33 billion tons) of food produced in 2015 was wasted. That is literally so much food we can not imagine the capacity. There is no excuse for hunger in the world. I will demonstrate this with statistics:
- Roughly 12% of the world’s population (~795 million people) suffer from undernourishment. That means, 1 in 9 people do not have enough food to eat (UN). Most homeless people in developed countries eat less than two-thirds the recommended amount and the primary source of nutrition is processed food. Children fostered in shelters receive about 4 times more sugar than recommended levels while only a fraction (~25%) of recommended vegetables (National Healthcare for the Homeless Council).
- The amount of food sitting in landfills could sustain every undernourished individual with the same calorie intake as an average US citizen. The average US citizen eats roughly 1 metric ton of food a year with a caloric intake of approximately 2700 calories a day. The NIH reports that an average adult should consume between 1800-3000 food calories daily depending on metabolism and physicality. Using the minimal caloric intake, 1.3 billion tons of food could feed on the order of 2 billion adults.
- Most of vagrant and undernourished individuals in the world are children. Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under the age of five – 3.1 million children each year. See my early post 140 Million Reasons to Consider Adoption First.
As a world, we have the ability to make world hunger a chapter in our history books. Through the Sustainable Development Agenda, the United Nations has set out to end world hunger by 2030 — Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. For context, the Paris Climate Agreement is part of the Sustainable Development Agenda.
In addition to policy objectives, individual charitable groups have set out to confront world hunger head on. Groups like Feeding Hong Kong are bridging the gap between food waste and the hungry masses. From 2011 to date, Feeding Hong Kong has rescued more than 1300 tonnes of food and supported more than 3 million meals.
Do you like fiber? My mother does. I grew up eating delicious, spicy, and bean-packed (fiber-rich) chili. I could explain the physiological process of fiber in our bodies, but this once I will spare you. Instead, I will focus on the big crockpot that is our landfills, the fiber-like processes happening when our foodwaste breaks down, and the green house gases entering our atmosphere.
The garbage bin is no place for edible food, yet food waste is the single largest solid waste entering landfills. The EPA reported that 21% of trash in US landfills is food. Food waste quickly decomposes producing huge quantities of green house gases.
In 2015, total global emission was roughly 6.6 billion metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent weight in gas. Carbon dioxide represents roughly 82% of the total gas emission, but perhaps the more significant gases are represented in the remaining 18%. The relatively lower emitted methane, nitrous oxides, and fluorinated gases present far greater global warming potential than CO2.
At 10% of total emissions, methane is a significant component of human-sourced atmospheric change. Globally, landfills are the third largest source of estimated methane emissions. The global methane initiative reports US-based landfills produce roughly 3 times more methane than the second greatest producing country China. This may be the result of such high deposits of foodwaste, with the NRDC reporting 40% of US-based food production going into landfills.
Under the Obama administration, the *EPA reported that landfills are the largest source of methane in the United States after the extraction and use of Natural Gas and the Cattle Industry. Methane is considered to have a global warming potential far greater than CO2. While methane stays in the atmosphere for only about 10 years, the gas retains much higher quantities of energy than CO2. While the exact amount is not agreed upon, the range is typically between 28-36 times more potent than CO2.
*Note: Under the current administration, many statistics regarding climate change, global warming, and greenhouse gases are no longer available on the Environmental Protection Agency website instead see the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Climate Data Online or the archives on snapshot.
Resource Waste and Agriculture Malpractice
Carbon materialization and hunger represent only the aftermath of foodwaste. The broader impacts of food waste begin with cultivation. The combined practices and resource consumption of traditional agriculture are incredibly demanding on the environment.
Getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten.
The land, the water, the chemicals, the labor, and the energy devoted to discarded food magnify the impact created during the disposal of food.
Land conversion & habitat loss –>
Wasteful water consumption –>
Soil erosion & degradation –>
Fertilizer & pesticides additives–>
Livestock fermentation & manure –>
Chemical leach into water and soil –>
Loss of species Biodiversity…
In 2014, the Living Planet Report documented a 52% decline in earth’s biodiversity over a 40 year period. Humans have effectively altered the environment to produce enough food to feed 7.5 billion mouths without considering the natural capacity of the ecosystem.
Land Conversion: Decreased Plant Sequsterization of Carbon
Highly biodiverse ecosystems everywhere in the world are clear-cut and slashed-and-burned to expand agricultural zones. Millions of hectares of forest and grasslands have been converted to monoculture ecosystems that support only a fraction of the native species. In addition, forest destruction and monoculture contribute heavily to carbon dioxide emissions and reduce sequesterization of greenhouse gases which plants capture and store. For more read the WWF article Farming: Habitat conversion & loss.
Conventional Agriculture: Abused Soils, Chemicals, & Polluted Waterways
Agriculture land conversion often leads to heavily abused, overgrazed, and eroded soils that rely heavily on the use of synthetic fertilizers, to maximize yields. To minimize losses, conventional farms employ the aid of pest-management chemicals, such as neonicotinoids. When these fertilizers, pesticides, and the effluent waste of livestock leach into waterways they alter the chemistry of the ecosystem harming beneficial species. Neonicotinoids are the same chemicals partially responsible for the bee decline. For a more comprehensive post about the negative impact of pesticides and the critical issue of bee decline read my post, Save Our Busy Bees?!
Pre-WasteEmissions: Enteric Fermentation, Manure and…. Nitrous Oxide
Enteric Fermentation and Manure: More than all the landfill methane in the world, the second largest source of methane ferments in the bellies of our Mooing Amigos. Emissions from enteric fermentation (EF) occur during digestion in ruminant animals. These animals include cattle, sheep, goats, buffalo, deer, elk, giraffes and camels. However, cattle, almost unanimously, produce all EF emissions with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions reporting 95% of emissions originating from the dairy and meat industries. In addition, the methane emissions from livestock manure contributes to 10% of anthropogenic methane production in the US (EPA).
Global emissions from livestock is 14.5% of all human-related GHG emissions.
- 5 percent of CO2 emissions (IPCC, 2007)
- 44 percent of CH4 emissions (IPCC, 2007)
Agriculture: Combining livestock manure and synthetic fertilizers accounts for 67% of human-related N2O emissions.
Anthropogenic Nitrous Oxide: Nitrous Oxide levels are higher than at any other time for the last 800,000 years (Adrian Schilt). N2O only accounts for 5% of the global human-related emissions, but with chemical half-lives extending in the thousands of years N2O is considered to have a Global Warming Potential ~300 times greater than the CO2 equivalent.
In a later article, I will discuss in-depth greenhouse gases, global warming potential, and review the IPCC manual Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis.
The Money, The Energy & The Labor
The shear amount of resources used in the disposal of food waste could easily compensate the energy and money necessary to spread resources to regions of the world in need. The amount of money lost in food production in the United States is greater than $1 trillion dollars see this article by the Huffington Post.
SO… the consumer solution is simple.
What we consumers can do? As my mother told me, I will tell you. Waste not and Want not. Most food loss happens through preparation, scraps left on dirty dishes, and spoilage. If we use our resources with reason they will serve as a commodity and not a necessity. So, buy only what you need and prepare less — there is less to waste.
The world has enough food too feed humanity, food should be a comodity not a resource. So please, if for no reason other than me… Eat your leftovers!
And of course stay lovely and have a beautiful weekend!