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While Children Starve, Up to Half of the World’s Food Goes to Waste

While Children Starve, Up to Half of the World’s Food Goes to Waste
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One third to one half of all food produced in the world goes to waste uneaten, according to data recently collected by the Natural Resources Defense Council and presented this month at the 2012 Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit. The NRDC plans to release a full report on food waste in April.

The NRDC’s agricultural experts aren’t the only ones sounding an alarm about the global problem of staggeringly excessive food waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that the average American throws away 33 pounds of food each month — that’s nearly 400 pounds each year. Food waste makes up nearly 14% of American families’ trash. Americans toss more food in their garbage cans than plastic products. This waste includes both leftover cooked foods, and food that was purchased but allowed to spoil without being eaten. The foods most commonly discarded without ever being eaten include fresh produce, eggs and fish.

But households aren’t the only source of food waste: farmers, packaged food producers and retailers all waste edible food, too. Farmers may throw away excess produce that cannot be sold; food process may discard edible byproducts; grocery stores often reject or discard produce with minor defects. And at any point along the food supply chain, failure to deliver food promptly or store food properly may lead to spoilage.

Food Rots While Millions Go Hungry

Meanwhile, The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that 925 million people went undernourished in 2010 alone. And hunger is not a problem restricted to developing countries: last year, an estimated 1 in 4 American children lived in households where food was not always available, and 1 in 5 Americans sought food aid through the federal food stamp program.

Food Waste Harms the Environment and Contributes to Climate Change

Agriculture and food production are highly energy-intensive industries. Industrialized farms use petrochemicals to fertilize soil, and fossil fuels to power farm equipment.  Transporting food from field to plate consumes even more energy. According to the a report issued by the UN FAO in November 2011, the food sector accounts for nearly 30 percent of the world’s energy consumption. Wasted food, essentially, is wasted energy.

And wasted water, too: the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports that agriculture accounts for roughly 70 percent of human water consumption.

Beyond the substantial environmental impact of the wasted energy and water represented by wasted food, food waste contributes significantly to global climate change when it decomposes in landfills.

When left to decompose in natural conditions or in a compost pile, food waste naturally releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  But under unnatural landfill conditions, in the absence of air, most food waste undergoes anaerobic decomposition, which results in the production of large amounts of methane gas instead. Though both carbon dioxide and methane are greenhouse gases that can contribute to climate change, EPA scientists estimate that methane gas is 20 times more efficient at trapping the sun’s heat than carbon dioxide — making excess methane much more dangerous to the climate than excess CO2.

Landfills are currently the third-largest source of methane in the United States, producing more of the dangerous greenhouse gas than coal mining or crude oil production. And much of the methane in landfills comes from decomposing food waste.

The good news is, there is a simple solution to this problem that almost every person who eats can easily participate in: waste less food.

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Photo of food waste by Nick Saltmarsh. Used under Creative Commons license.

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469 comments

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3:58PM PST on Dec 30, 2012

I grew up, and so far have made it to 52 years old, eating fruit and vegetables that would not 'pass inspection' these days; I have also seen people (in many different countries) who would dearly love to have an opportunity to eat some of the food that Western countries throw away - indeed the article suggests that there are people in the US who would like the opportunity too. Our world has limited resources, wasting them in any way is morally wrong and is something that will, no doubt, come back to haunt us in the not too distant future.

6:55PM PDT on Aug 29, 2012

These figures are disgusting...We waste absolutely nothing in our house. it's my pet hate..and to think people are starving to death while we throw away good food. As an animal race which we are, We are the worst kind.

7:17AM PDT on Jul 3, 2012

thanks for posting

7:11PM PDT on Jun 24, 2012

so very sad. we try to waste little to nothing

9:54PM PDT on Apr 19, 2012

Thank you for an essential information, advisable ideas....

7:57PM PDT on Apr 18, 2012

thank you

11:28AM PDT on Apr 15, 2012

Waste less. So simple.

3:13PM PDT on Apr 12, 2012

good iinfo

8:37AM PDT on Apr 11, 2012

Thanks

6:55PM PDT on Apr 10, 2012

This dilemma infuriates me.

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