Sustainability 101

Trends: The Food Waste Epidemic – What Can You Do?

Sept. 2015

…we know that approximately a third of all food produced is discarded, and “whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor.” (50) — Pope Francis, Laudato Si.

IMG_4797The topic of food waste has been in the news recently as New York and other cities across the country begin to phase in regulations calling for the mandatory recycling of organic material.

Even if your business is not currently affected by any new rules concerning food waste, the problem is so large that you will have to address it in the not-so-distant future. Dealing with food waste is the final frontier of recycling.  It is one of the last few ways to make an impact on your waste management.

This month, the USDA and EPA set the first-ever national food waste reduction goal – calling for a 50% reduction by 2030.  According to the USDA:

Food loss and waste in the United States accounts for approximately 31 percent—or 133 billion pounds—of the overall food supply available to retailers and consumers and has far-reaching impacts on food security, resource conservation and climate change.

Food loss and waste is single largest component of disposed U.S. municipal solid waste, and accounts for a significant portion of U.S. methane emissions. Landfills are the third largest source of methane in the United States. Furthermore, experts have projected that reducing food losses by just 15 percent would provide enough food for more than 25 million Americans every year, helping to sharply reduce incidences of food insecurity for millions.

Writing in the paper Diverting Edible Food From The Waste Stream, E.J.P. Muhly of EcoResolve notes:

Financially, wasted food costs America more than $100 billion annually when combining the disposal cost of municipal waste management, the over purchasing costs, and the cost of lost energy.

So what are communities across the country doing, and what can you do?

  1. Muhly’s paper features a great compilation of food recovery efforts that are being undertaken across the country, from food pantries to composting services. Take a look to see if there is a business or organization in your area that you might be able to work with.
  2. The EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy prioritizes six actions organizations can take to prevent and divert wasted food.  Check the list to see what you can do.
  3. Included in the EPA’s list above is composting. Simply put, composting is the process of turning food waste into a valuable soil amendment. Will composting work for your business?  See our guide to composting for businesses and organizations.
  4. Consider an anaerobic or aerobic Digester, especially if your company generates a lot of food waste. Check out the Great Forest guide to “New And Emerging Food Waste Recycling Technologies” for an overview of what is available.
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