2018-12-05 18:04:55 UTC
American climate action might be stymied at the federal level, but
there's one place you can still make a major difference: on your
Food waste climate change
Today more than 60 percent of Americans are worried about climate
change, and it's easy to understand why. In the last year alone,
record-breaking hurricanes, wildfires, heat waves, and algal blooms,
all linked in one way or another to our changing climate, have
affected nearly every part of the United States. The the scale of the
problem can be overwhelming. The latest report from the United
Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released last
month, underscored, once again, that solving the climate crisis will
require a complete and unprecedented transformation of the world
Such a transformation will require concerted global actionthe kind
that comes about when hundreds of world leaders and delegates come
together for negotiations like COP24, taking place in Katowice,
Poland, next week. But that doesn't mean there's nothing the average
person can do to help. Reducing wasteand food waste in particularis
something that Americans can tackle at the state, city, and even
Every year, Americans throw out 400 pounds of food per person,
according to the United States Department of Agriculture. By weight,
food waste is the No. 1 contributor to landfills, where it decomposes
and starts emitting potent greenhouse gases like methane. Some 14
percent of U.S. methane emissions come from landfills, and, accounting
for emissions all along the supply chain, wasted food accounts for 2.6
percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Food waste is not just an American problemthough we do tend to waste
more than many other developed nations. As much as a third of the
world's food goes to waste, according to the Natural Resources Defense
Council, and if food waste were a nation, it would be the
third-largest carbon emitter.
It's no surprise, then, that the IPCCs latest climate report also
identified waste as a good target for greenhouse gas reductions. It's
the low-hanging fruit for both local governments and individuals,
according to Kate O'Neil, a professor at the University of
CaliforniaBerkeley. "Food waste is a huge contributor is many ways to
climate change, so cities are in a good position to say, 'We're going
to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by really tackling the biowaste
issue,'" O'Neil says. "It's more straightforward than other solutions.
For example, it isn't hard to set up composting centers."
There are nearly 300 food waste collection programs across the U.S.
today, a sixfold increase over the last decade. San Francisco, which
already recycles more of its waste than any other U.S. city, is one of
nearly two dozen cities around the world committed to cutting the
amount of food waste it sends to landfills in half by 2030. More
broadly, the state of California passed a law in 2016 to cut the
amount of organic waste going to landfills by 75 percent by 2025, and
mandating that at least 20 percent of edible food waste be recovered
for human consumption. A Massachusetts law bans businesses of a
certain size from sending food waste to landfills, and a law on
Vermont's books will prevent residents from sending food to landfills
beginning in 2020.
Individual households are by far the No. 1 source of food waste in the
U.S.some 40 percent of wasted food, according to Dana Gunders, a food
waste expert formerly with the NRDCwhich means that, collectively,
individuals can make a big dent in food waste and its climate impacts.
Composting is one way to cut back on food-related emissions. In
landfills, which are anaerobic or oxygen-deprived environments,
microbes digest rotting food and release methane, a greenhouse gas
that is more than 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Composting
creates an aerobic environment, and methane-producing microbes don't
thrive in the presence of oxygen.
Composting is an especially good option for the parts of our food that
are inediblelike banana peels or egg shells, for examplethat will
always go to waste. But more than two-thirds of the food scraps we
throw out were edible at one time, according to Gunders, who says that
not wasting the food at all could have the biggest positive effect on
our climate. "The disposal phase of life is a small portion of the
footprint of the food we're wasting," she says. That's because when
you throw away food, you're also wasting the water used to grow crops,
for example, or the fossil fuels burned to get it from the farm to the
"When you throw out a hamburger, that's the equivalent of taking a
90-minute shower, in terms of the water it took to produce that
hamburger," Gunders continues. "Not wasting food in the first place
is, from a climate perspective, a significantly more impactful step
As with all climate issues, there's no one-size-fits-all solution to
food waste. "It happens for different reasons on farms than it does in
restaurants than it does in stores than it does in homes, so the
solutions are very different," Gunders says. At the household level,
ideally everyone would be planning meals and cooking more at home, but
that's not always easy or possible. Gunders' best advice, then, is to
rely more on our freezers. "I think we vastly under-utilize our
freezers," she says, launching into a list of unexpected foods she
frequently freezes: milk, cheese (best shredded), eggs (uncooked, but
scrambled), bread, pasta, herbs, the list goes on.
Of course, freezing foods can solve one problem, while contributing to
another: plastic pollution. Humans throw out 300 million tons of
plastic every yearabout half of that is single-use plastics, like the
plastic freezer bags you might use to prolong the life of your
groceriesand only 9 percent of plastic is recycled. Until recently,
much of the plastic waste generated in the U.S. was shipped off to
China to be processed and re-purposed. But last year, China changed
its policy on accepting plastic waste imports, and now much of the
recyclables that would have gone overseas are instead accumulating in
our nation's landfills. Reusable containers, like the silicone-based
Stasher Bagswashable, silicone bags for storing food on-the-go or in
the freezer (which, full disclosure, I found via a free sample)work
in place of single-use plastic bags.
There are other, less direct benefits of limiting food loss for the
environment, including the fact that the less food we waste, the more
will be available for the world's growing population. Cutting food
waste means we can feed more people without increasing deforestation
or emissions. Indeed, cutting food losses in half could feed one
billion more people, according to the NRDC.
"No matter how organically or sustainably we grow our food," Gunders
says, "if we're not eating it, it's a terrible use of resources."
This email has been checked for viruses by AVG.