Food Waste: Don’t Spoil the Bunch

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One of the things as a society that seems incredibly wasteful to me is the amount of food we discard. I’m not the only one that feels this way; there are countless experts that will be able to go on and on about how severe our food waste issue is. This is glaringly obvious when you see that we waste 40% of all our food in the US. This food waste makes up the second largest portion of all our waste at 21.59% of all waste or over 63 million tons. That’s equivalent to disposing of 345 empire state buildings every year or almost one per day.

I’m sure you were told at some point how important it is to finish your plate because there are people starving in X, Y, or Z country. This seems especially silly when you look at the amount of food we waste before it even reaches our plate. An estimated 43% of food waste does still happen once it gets to the consumer. However, as I’ve talked about before, it’s important to go “upstream” with these issues by starting at the source and working your way back in order to understand the whole picture.

One of the first places we begin to lose food is exactly where it starts, on the farm. A lot of the food grown on farms doesn’t ever leave the farm. When pickers go through fields a lot of food has to be left behind because of the journey the food has to take to our dinner plates. The risk of the spoilage during transportation means that food that is ready to eat the day it is picked has to be left behind to spoil. Some of the food is also left behind because it has some amount of blemishes that will lead to it not selling at stores. On a positive note, much of this food is left in fields to degrade so the nutrients aren’t taken from one location to spoil elsewhere.

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The next stop on the food waste journey is at the super market. Once food arrives at the store, many of the items are labeled with best by and sell by dates that quickly approach. Stores are forced to toss or donate this food, but a large majority is simply thrown away. Other items are considered to have poor appearance by customers and those items are left on shelves until stores have no choice but to get rid of them.

After that the waste continues at food service locations such as cafeterias and restaurants. Due to excessive portion sizes meals often are unable to be finished. Sometimes those leftovers are brought home, but often they are left behind to be tossed in the trash.

The last place we accumulate food waste is in our homes. This happens for a wide array of reasons. One of the main culprits is simply forgetting about food in our fridge or pantry. Bringing it full circle, we often bite off more than we can chew when it comes to the food that we make. Portion control is essential here.

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You might be wondering what you can do to make an impact to reduce food waste and I am here to tell you there is plenty that you can do! For starters, don’t be afraid of blemished food. Most of that food is still just as tasty and will be overlooked by other patrons. Another great option is to support companies like Imperfect Foods, Misfits Market, or hungry harvest. Just make sure that you will actually eat the food you receive from those services otherwise the benefit is negated. You can also support local farmers markets to get the freshest food while also stopping food from spoiling on the farms.

Another great way you can help this food waste is through greater organization. When it comes to planning out our meals, when we are more thoughtful about our food we can plan appropriately so we don’t over buy and let food waste. Additionally addressing the clutter of our food in our fridge can make a huge difference. When things start to pile up, that’s a sign you need to go through and organize what you have so it doesn’t go bad.

This is something I have experienced first hand. My wife was incredibly frustrated when we were forced to downsize in fridge size so she took it upon herself to reorganize and even purchase additional shelving to make it easier to see everything in the fridge. This has stopped us from forgetting about items in the back and has helped us utilize everything in our fridge.

The last idea to reduce food waste at home is to practice cooking more often. We have developed into a purchasing society so much that many of us are pretty lousy cooks. However, if we are comfortable in the kitchen, we will be better equipped to utilize our leftovers in more effective ways. How many times do you get an ingredient for one dish but don’t know what else to do with it? For me personally, this happens often with fresh herbs. Getting creative in the kitchen can ensure that we end up using all of what we buy rather than just some of it.

No matter how hard we try, we will be left with some amount of food waste (even if its just the scraps from cooking). One of the most important things we can do is compost that food. As I discussed in my previous post, food placed in landfills produces methane, which is significantly more harmful than CO2. The alternative is composting that food, which releases less harmful emissions like CO2 and also leaves us with nutrient rich soil. So stop tossing your food scraps in the trash and start composting! If you are still looking for things you can do to reduce your food waste, check out SaveTheFood. It’s a campaign dedicated to addressing all aspects of food waste. Let me know if you have any other tricks in the comments!

It’s Time We Look at the Big Picture With Our Trash

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We are in a constant state of information overload; always being told to focus on this or that. It can be nearly impossible to know where our attention is best served. Often this turns into a sort of slight of hands. We focus so hard on one thing that something else in our peripheral goes unnoticed. This same phenomenon even happens with our trash and the products we use daily.

An area I specifically see a lot of this is with plastic. These days there are countless brands devoted to the eradication of plastic. It might as well be the devil to them and we end up along for the marketing ride, buying into the same conclusion. My fixation on plastic isn’t any better, and is why I talk about plastic and its recyclability all the time.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the frustration with plastic. It’s a real problem and we need to find solutions. That’s precisely the motivation behind creating content like this. We need to discuss and collaborate to resolve our plastic and waste issues. However, I don’t share the same sentiment as everyone else that by simply removing plastic entirely from our lives, we will somehow solve all our waste issues. Instead, I think we need to look at the big picture.

There are few different ways we can do this. One concept that has exploded in popularity is this idea of a carbon footprint. The idea is that your carbon footprint is the sum of the greenhouse gases generated by your actions. These greenhouse gases are what contribute to global warming so the idea is the lower the carbon footprint, the lower the contribution towards global warming.

Carbon footprints can also be applied to specific products. This is often referred to as a life cycle analysis (LCA) when being applied to products. The carbon footprint or LCA of a package takes everything throughout the product life into consideration. This starts with the raw materials required to make a product, the energy and resources required to convert those raw materials, the waste or end use of the product, and all the energy and exhaust in-between transporting.

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Applying this concept to plastic packaging often tells a very different story than what we are used to. Despite our tendency to see plastic trash everywhere, it’s only as bad as the difference from the alternative. Since plastic comes in a lot of shapes and sizes we need to compare it on a case by case basis. EcoChain did a wonderful job comparing the LCA of a plastic jar to glass. In their study they found that plastic far outperformed glass mostly due to the weight of glass and the challenges transporting it.

Even this data needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Their data suggested a plastic recycle rate of 50% (the current recycling rate in the Netherlands), but here in the US only about 29% of plastic bottles are recycled according to the EPA. Despite this discrepancy, plastic bottles often come out with a superior carbon footprint when looking at the entire LCA. However plastic doesn’t always come out on top when comparing in other segments.

So whats the point of all this? The materials we use everyday are a lot more complicated than we might think. We need to look at the big picture and not rely on one single source. Carbon footprints and LCAs are are great way to compare things apples-to-apples (assuming you can find a trustworthy source on the comparison).

When it comes to deciding the ideal materials to make our products from, the answer is often “it depends.” We can’t say that our issues would be solved if we removed all plastic from our lives. But that doesn’t mean we should stop looking for alternatives.

If you want to learn more about carbon footprints and LCA, there are great resources out there to check out. They offer information on understanding your own carbon footprint and a lot more detail about exactly how LCAs are put together. I highly suggest you read up on these things for yourself! We need to try to stay objective and depend on science to tell us the best options available.