Reducing Food Waste

By Susan Littlefield

Last time you cleaned out the refrigerator, did a lot of stuff originally intended for your plate end up in the trash? If so, you're not alone. According to a study released in August 2012 by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), about 40 percent of all the edible food in this country goes to waste. This astounding figure takes into account losses throughout the "farm to fork" supply chain. But even so, the NRDC calculates that the average American tosses out 20 pounds of food -- or $28 to $43 dollars worth -- each month, or the equivalent of $165 billion nationwide.

This is not only a waste of food that could feed people; it comes with some significant environmental consequences as well. Food waste is the single largest component of the solid waste dumped in landfills in this country, and its decomposition accounts for 25 percent of the U.S. emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. According to NRDC estimates, 25 percent of freshwater use in the U.S. and 4 percent of our domestic oil consumption is used to produce this wasted food, and we spend $750 million a year just to dispose of it.

Opportunities exist for businesses and government to implement strategies for waste reduction on farms, in post-harvest handling, packing, processing, shipping, distribution, and marketing. But there are also ways individual households can help to reduce food waste. Planning meals, buying wisely, avoiding impulse purchases, and preparing only as much as is needed are common sense ways to minimize food waste.

Fruits and vegetables come in at a substantial 35 percent of the food products wasted by the average American in and out of home. Gardeners who grow their own eliminate the waste that occurs in the commercial supply chain, and they can harvest what they need when they need it, making household waste less of an issue. And composting the fruit and vegetable waste you do produce keeps it out of landfills and reduces its negative effect on the climate.

For more information about the problem of food waste in this country and ways to reduce it, go to: Wasted and Food Facts: Your Scraps Add Up.

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