Written by Melia Ortiz, ESLLC 2016-2017
Worldwide, an estimated 1.3 billion tons of food produced for human consumption is wasted annually. That is over one-third of all food produced, and includes around 45% of all fruits and vegetables, 35% of fish and seafood, 30% of cereals, 20% of dairy products, and 20% of meats. The environmental impact of all of this wasted food is substantial. Wasted food has a carbon footprint of approximately 3.3 gigatonnes. Also, it has blue-water footprint of around 250kmᶾ annually, which is more than 38 times that of US households. In addition, 1.4 billion hectares of land is used to produce food that will never be eaten. That is larger than any country except US and China. Food waste can occur at many different stages including production, processing, retailing, and consumption. Although some food waste occurs in undeveloped countries due to poor equipment and infrastructure, a majority of food waste occurs in developed countries. While 7% of food grow in the US never even leaves the fields, consumer and foodservice food waste is the largest source of food waste in the market chain.
Despite the amount of food waste produced in our country, one in six Americans do not know where their next meal is coming from. Organizations like Denver Food Rescue and the Food Recovery Network, are doing amazing work to help reduce both of these issues. Denver Food Rescue works with local farms and grocery stores to take perishable foods to those in need. They use bikes to deliver the food directly to food insecure communities in Denver. This food would be disposed of, but instead provides needed fresh foods to communities that otherwise would not have access to this necessary part of their diets. Furthermore, a chapter of the nationwide Food Recovery Network works on the University of Denver campus with Sodexo to package leftover food prepared to serve in the dining halls and takes it to local food pantries. These organizations, and many more like them, play an important role in diverting food from the landfill and to people in need.
Limiting food waste during the consumption stage is the easiest way the individual can help the cause. When grocery shopping, buy only the food you can eat before it spoils. Keep a close eye on fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy products that might go bad quickly, and do not buy perishables in bulk if you will not eat all of them. Also, when making your plate of food in the dining hall or elsewhere, never take more than you will eat. Consider starting with small portions, then getting more if necessary, rather than starting with large helpings you may not finish. If some food waste is unavoidable, make sure the food is composted. Currently, over 97% of food waste ends up in landfills where it breaks down anaerobically and produces large amounts of methane. While diversion does not solve the problem of food waste, it does allow the foods nutrients to be reused to grow more food for the future rather than leaving them in a landfill.