Everyone wastes food, but for the individual it is a matter of volume and frequency. For every discarded loaf of bread and past date yogurt that may fall into obsolescence at the back of the fridge, there are a dozen eggs absent mindedly left in the trunk of a car, or a few pounds of ground beef fallen a few light shades of grey and turned out to the garbage in quick measure. Virtually every family, and every individual in these plentiful United States discards a fair percentage of their food; whether it has spoiled, or is just too much to consume.
For most people, this is but a mere blip in their path to consumption, but for all the number crunchers out there, this is a huge, overwhelming problem. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Loss Project, Americans are inclined to discard more than 25% (approximately 25.9 million tons) of all the food produced domestically (some estimates are significantly higher). The tragedy of this substantial waste does not end once the potential for consumption has met its end in the garbage bin. Once all of this decomposing food hits the landfill (whether it is contained in plastic bags or not) it continues breaking down and creating large amounts of methane gas, which is well known for contributing to the long dreaded greenhouse effect. Now comes news (appropriate in light of the recent gulf oil disaster) from the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas at Austin, more energy is wasted in the perfectly edible food discarded by people in the US each year than is extracted annually from the oil and gas reserves off the nation’s coastlines (this figure does not take into account waste on farms and from fishing). This loss is more than, and effectively nullifies, any contemporary attempt or strategy to improve national energy efficiency.
Haunting stuff to be sure, and just the kind of news that makes one feel utterly hopeless (or sadly motivated to start eating one’s own waste). However, while we may never become a zero-waste society, recent inroads in community composting, food recovery, gleaning, and rampant “freeganism” have been, and will hopefully continue to, make an impact on that 25% of waste. If motivated enough to cut our food waste in half we would likely extend the lifespan of landfills by decades and reduce soil depletion and the application of untold tons of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, but this requires cleaning our plate in a radically different way.