You may be asking isn’t food just organic material that breaks down and creates more soil? Shouldn't we focus more of our attention on reducing pollution, plastics, or oil consumption? The short answer is that by addressing food waste we will ultimately be addressing all of those things. This is because the impacts of food waste are felt environmentally, socially, and economically. Some of us may not even be fully aware of the degree to which these areas are impacted.

Economic Impact

Even if reducing food waste is not at the forefront of your priorities, it may interest you to know how wasted food affects your wallet. Food waste costs Americans 161 billion dollars annually. To put it in a smaller perspective on average, a family of four in MN could save $1200 per year just by reducing their food waste. So, the next time you go to the grocery store, only buy what you need for that week or so, especially if you are buying fresh produce. The FDA has a web page dedicated to  Food Loss and Waste with some more tips, videos, calculators, and calendars to help you monitor and reduce your food waste.

Environmental Impact

Food waste is responsible for 2.6% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. This is equivalent to the emissions of 37 million cars (1 in 7 cars). These emissions come from the decomposition of food within landfills. As the food decomposes and bacteria help break it down gases such as CO2 and Methane are released into the atmosphere. Both are greenhouse gases. Although CO2 is the most abundant, methane has the potential to trap heat 25 times more than CO2.

According to a 2019 EPA report, Landfills account for 15% of U.S. methane emissions. Over 85% of greenhouse gas emissions from landfilled food waste result from activities prior to consumer disposal, including production, transport, processing, and distribution- That means this waste and the environmental problems that go with it occur long before getting to consumers.

Social Impact

30-40% of the U.S. food supply is wasted at the retail and consumer levels. According to the U.N., 2.37 Billion people are without food or unable to eat a healthy diet on a regular basis. In Minnesota 1 in 12 households struggle with food insecurity (USDA, 2019). Diverting even 15% of the edible food that goes to waste would be enough to cut the number of food-insecure Americans in half.

What can you do?

Start by reducing your own household food waste. Almost all of us have been raised with the three R's, “reduce, reuse, recycle.” We have become very good at the last part- recycling- but neglect the first word which would have the biggest impact “REDUCE.” Recycling and reusing is good to practice because they allow us to reclaim resources, but they still take up resources such as land space, and energy, not to mention fossil fuels to transport materials. So, reducing waste would have a greater impact because it saves resources at all levels.

Another way to help is to be an ambassador! Talk to your friends and neighbors or write to your favorite brands and ask them about their sustainable initiatives. Consumers drive changes in industry so make it a point to purchase brands that already have a low environmental impact or are locally grown and processed.

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