By Emily Eschner
Wasting food – we’re all guilty of it from time to time. The head of lettuce you forgot about in your refrigerator. The extra helping you took at that party and were too stuffed to finish. It happens. The truth is, it happens way too much. But it’s not just you – food waste happens regularly worldwide, in all parts of the process from farm to table. Food can be wasted or “lost” in the production, processing, transportation, distribution and consumption stages.
You want some staggering statistics? Between 33 and 40% of all food produced worldwide is never eaten. In the U.S alone, that’s about 133 billion pounds of food annually, which is equivalent to 1,249 calories per person, per day. Of the food waste generated in the U.S, about 97% ends up in landfills; only 3% is composted! It quickly becomes clear that food waste is a serious, complex, and multi-faceted problem.
It’s a social justice issue. There are millions of people in the US who live in food-insecure households and millions more worldwide who suffer from chronic undernourishment. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or 1 in 9, are malnourished.
It’s an environmental issue. Food waste that goes to landfills breaks down without oxygen (unlike compost) and produces methane, a greenhouse gas many times more potent than CO2. Almost 25% of all freshwater used for agriculture worldwide is used to grow food that is ultimately wasted. Wasted food accounts for roughly 300 million barrels of oil, or about 4% of the total US oil consumption per year.
It’s an economic issue. In 2008, the EPA estimated that food waste cost roughly $1.3 billion just to dispose of it in U.S landfills. The average American throws away about 20 pounds of food each month, which ends up being over $500 per year.
Dishearteningly as this information is, in developed countries like the US, most food is wasted at the consumption stage, which means it’s easier to make a difference! YOU have the power to be thoughtful about how, when, where, and why you eat, and thereby limit how much food waste YOU produce.
What does USM do? USM sends all pre-consumer (kitchen-generated) food waste to a local farmer to feed his pigs. Unfortunately, post-consumer waste tends to have plates, napkins, and other non-edibles that pigs won’t eat. In the past, USM composted with an outside contractor, but the cost became prohibitively expensive. At this time, we do not have a contract with a composting facility, but are currently exploring options.
Between January 25th and February 5th, the Sustainability Office will be weighing individual’s food waste at Brooks Dining Center and talking about how to reduce the amount generated on a daily basis.
What can YOU do? Take only what you will eat at the dining halls. If you don’t finish everything at a meal, save your leftovers to eat later on. Keep tabs on food you buy and store in your refrigerator and shelves. Make a list of food to buy after checking what you already have. Advocate for on-campus composting.