How Food Waste is Harming our Environment

July 26, 2018 | 12:50 pm | Written by

Food waste is one of the more important issues facing the country, yet most people are not aware of this pervasive issue and the impact it is having on our environment. According to a recent study, food waste has increased by 50% since 1974. Forty percent of the food produced in the United States ends up in a landfill or is left to rot in the field. More than 365 million pounds of food is wasted every single day, enough to fill an entire football stadium.  On a micro level, Americans are throwing out 15-25% of the food they purchase, which over time equates to 400 pounds of wasted food per person, per year, with an estimated cost of more than $200 billion.

One reason why Americans waste so much food is that we have very high standards for our produce. If we see fruit or vegetables that aren’t flawless, we tend to just throw them out, even though they are still perfectly fine. More than 20 billion pounds of fruit and vegetables are not harvested simply due to the selective nature of consumer buying habits.

Another reason why there is so much food wasted is due to the fact that refrigerators have grown in size by 15% since the 1970’s. This causes consumers to fill all of the space in their refrigerators allowing for a greater chance of food becoming wasted. Often, individuals will leave food in the back of the refrigerators and just forget about them. This food then is thrown it and ends up in a landfill. Even the size of the average dinner plate has increased by 36%, which results in larger servings and an increased chance that food will go to waste.

Individual consumers are not solely to blame. Food manufacturers, grocery stores, and restaurants waste up to 52 billion pounds of food each year. While households are the cause of 43% of food waste, consumer businesses make up 40% of food waste, with 16% coming from farms, and 2% of food being wasted by manufacturers.  Essentially, food is being wasted at every level of the supply chain. From the farm, to distribution, to the grocery store, and then finally at home, food waste is an inherent problem. The United Nations estimated that, by 2050, an additional 42 million people will go hungry.

The Impact 

According to ThinkEatSave, most uneaten food ends up in the dump. When food waste decomposes in a landfill without oxygen, this creates an anaerobic sequence that produces the methane, which is approximately 20 times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.  This in turn contributes to the destruction of the ozone layer, which can lead to higher temperatures around the globe.

Another dangerous outcome of so much food being dumped into landfills is the amount of groundwater pollution it creates. When it rains on landfills, the water allows for toxic chemicals, such as ammonia, to develop. These chemicals can leach into drinking water supplies and could also reach bodies of water such as lakes or rivers, killing the living organisms that inhabit those environments. Both groundwater and surface water are highly polluted when in close distance from a landfill.

Just living near a landfill can cause harm to humans due to air pollution that has been linked to respiratory diseases and even types of cancer.  This is due to the fact that gases produced from a landfill do not stay complacent, as they are able to find their way into homes and businesses in the surrounding area. Due to the massive amounts of waste that is left there, landfills have also been known to ignite large fires. This further allows for dangerous chemicals to fill the air and pollute bodies of water. Wildlife such as birds and mammals that scavenge for food at the dump are also at risk.

Additionally, 25% of all freshwater in the United States is used to cultivate food that is just going to be thrown away. A pound of wheat flour, for example, contains 12% water, apples contain 81% water, while meat needs 8 to 10 times more water than wheat flour. A single burger takes up 660 gallons of water to be produced. From the immense amounts of water being used in food that we eat everyday, correspondingly immense amounts of water are being wasted from the food we throw out.

What Can We Do?

A common sense way to help prevent food waste is to create a better system for date labeling on food products. According to ReFed,  the standard date labeling practice causes great confusion for Americans as to when to properly dispose of the food they buy from grocery stores. The terms “use-by” or “best before” causes 90% of American to dispose of fresh food, totaling up to 20% of consumer food waste.  By changing the labels to terms such as “Best if Used By”, or “freeze by” consumer will have greater clarity as to when they should throw out their food.

Another possible solution to food waste is allowing the federal government to provide tax benefits to businesses that actively donating food. According to ReFed, “up to $750 million of additional annual federal tax deductions should be funded to achieve 380,000 tons of additional donations: $620 million in incentives to farms would yield an additional 525 million donated meals, while $130 million provided to restaurants and retailers would generate 115 million meals annually.” For businesses, it can be difficult to be able to fully coordinate donating food items to food banks, which cause businesses to not donate food. Overall, this plan would help recover an incredible 638 million meals. There could be issues as to how the tax deductions would be distributed among the size of the business, and the state they live in, but it should be clear that this plan would benefit society as a whole, allowing for it to legitimately be beneficial in the eyes of politicians who would help enact the tax benefits.

In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a goal by 2030 to reduce food waste by 50%. Meeting this ambitious goal would certainly help address the issues of climate change, domestic and global hunger, and allow for the creation of more healthy and organic food.

State and local governments can also attempt to help prevent food waste by being able to promote the several ways residents can help out with this issue. Community compost areas, for example, would provide a central location where everyone could deliver their organic waste, instead of sending it to the landfill. Local businesses and restaurants can buy scales, cameras and invest in phone apps that measure how much waste the respective business is producing. Besides being able to prevent food waste, it allows for businesses to increase their profits by wasting less and being able to show to the community they are actively trying to be environmentally conscious.

Arguably the best course of action, however, is being able to advocate the harmful consequences of food waste. Nonprofits and local governments could have a beneficial impact on their local community by actively making awareness campaigns and teaming up with businesses to make as many people as possible aware of the consequences of food waste, and what they can do to prevent it. In the United Kingdom, the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) created a national awareness campaign called “Love Food Hate Waste” that, through the use of online and print advertising, helped successfully reduced consumer food waste by 21% in just five years. While it is clear that food waste is an issue that affects nearly everyone on the planet there still isn’t enough being done to prevent the harmful environmental repercussions that could negatively affect the planet for decades to come.

At Move For Hunger we strive to make sure that food waste is a thing of the past. Often when people move, they just throw out any food that is in their home without giving a second thought. That is where Move For Hunger comes in to help. With our network of more than 900 moving companies, we are able to collect millions of pounds of non-perishable food items and deliver them to food banks across the United States and Canada. If you want to help fight against food waste and the harmful environmental impact it creates team up with Move For Hunger. There are several ways that you can help fight hunger across the country with Move For Hunger such as starting a food drive, hosting a fundraiser, advocating for hunger relief, and being able to volunteer at your local food bank.

Learn more about food waste.

About Move For Hunger

More than 41 million Americans, including 1 in 6 children, struggle with food insecurity each day. Hunger exists in every state, county, and congressional district in the United States.

Move For Hunger has collected nearly 9 million pounds of food thanks, in large part, to ordinary people like you who recognized the urgency of the problem and decided to take action. We need your support to continue providing meals for our neighbors in need.

We have delivered more than

14,460,092
pounds

of food to food banks across United States & Canada.

These food donations account for more than

12,050,077
meals

for people in need.