How much do you think about food waste? Probably not much, based on current statistics:
Worldwide (per year):
222 million tons of food wasted in industrialized countries
Compared to food production in sub Saharan Africa = 230 million tons
30-40% of the food supply is wasted
Or about 20 lb/person/month
1,160 lb food/year per American family
Food waste comes from:
40-50% from consumers
50-60% from businesses
Obviously we need to do better.
As you can see families and households only hold part of the blame. Businesses - restaurants, grocery stores, farms, etc, share in wasting food. That's billions of dollars thrown out each year. As I sit here and write this, I am realizing I need to clean out my refrigerator and throw out old food. As much as I try to prevent food waste by reinventing leftovers into other meals and freezing food, it seems inevitable.
But that's me, in my home. I'm aware of the situation in my fridge. Let's pick on business for a quick second. Where is food waste happening at a local grocery store? While there are many areas of food waste in the store (expired items), there is one place that is also a big culprit.
Next time you are in the grocery store, visit the deli. If your local grocery store has a deli, most likely it has a soup and salad bar along with a bakery. Ok. So, let's focus on the soup bar. Depending on the policy of the store, soup leftover at the end of the day is thown out. While that doesn't seem like a big deal to you (why should I care about soup?), let me put in terms of amounts.
Let's say, there are 3 soups out on the bar. At the end of the day, 2 gallons of each soup remain. That's 6 gallons of soup being thrown away each night. Or 42 gallons per week or 2,184 gallons per year.
Now before you run out to the store to buy up all the soup from deli to prevent it from being thrown out, contact the store and ask them their policy. Some stores are proactive and donate leftovers to soup kitchens and other charities. But some don't. Don't let them tell you that they fear litigation because the Good Samaritan Law protects them from lawsuits. These stores lack the will to do what's right. Hunger is a real issue. And so is food waste. That leftover food could go to someone who needs it.
As with most things, to make any meaningful changes in the food system, sometimes you need government (oh no!) to step in and legislate change. In fact, France has taken steps to stop food waste. In the US, it's up to municipalities around the country to write ordinances that enact change. Here's what is being done:
French supermarkets are now banned from throwing away or destroying unsold food. They must donate it to charities or for animal feed.
The city has a goal of having zero waste by 2020 by diverting all of it's recyclable and compostable trash from landfills. They are currently diverting 80% of their waste from landfills.
To achieve this, they have enacted recycling and composting programs for consumers and businesses. For instance, restaurants are prohibited from using styrofoam take out containers because they are not recyclable. Residents and businesses are given food composting bins. Food and any waste must be either composted or recycled. If not, there are fines.
The city instituted a composting program for residences and businesses. Starting January 1, 2016, they will start issuing fines for garbage containers containing >10% of recyclables or food waste. All commercial businesses that generate food waste must subscribe to a composting service.
Portland provides recycling and compost bins to residences and businesses. They have a goal of raising the recycling rate to 75% by 2015.
These are just a few examples. There are other countries and cities addressing waste and recycling. I live in Cincinnati where they have not enacted any ordinances to combat food waste. They do, however, have a site dedicated to encouraging the public to donate food before throwing it out.
What could I do better in my house regarding food waste? I already do a great deal but food waste happens no matter how hard I try to prevent it. Since we are renting and planning to move out of state within a year, we do not have a compost bin. However, I do throw some food scraps into the garden (ones that I know will breakdown quickly). It's not perfect, but it's a start.
Here are some things you can do to prevent food waste:
Compost food waste. There are several websites and resources online about starting and maintaining a compost bin.
Only buy food you need. I write out a menu for the week and grocery shop according to the menu. I notice that on weeks I fail to write a dinner menu, we have a lot more food waste. Having a menu and grocery list forces me to take an inventory of the food in the refrigerator and pantry. I'm not wasting as much time and money in the store, either.
Cook from the pantry, freezer, or fridge. This means using up foods that ready to expire. I like to use up vegetables that are getting past their prime in either frittata or soup (2 perfect ways to utilize leftovers, too). I also freeze leftover soups and meat to use at a later time. Doing this saves me time and money in the end because some days I don't want to make a big dinner. It's comforting to know there is leftover soup in the freezer that will be good for a weeknight dinner.
These are just some ideas to get started thinking about food waste. I encourage you to enact steps in your household to reduce food waste and becoming a more knowledgeable consumer.