By Amanda Hong
Consider this shocking fact – a whopping 40% of food produced in the U.S. goes to waste.
Though we preach waste reduction in my household, we contribute to that percentage of waste. My partner purchased a box of mangoes last week. We love mangoes, but were only able to enjoy a few before the rest went bad. The remaining ones went to the compost heap. As I peeled off the stickers to prepare them for composting, scolding myself for not finding time to preserve them, I thought about the 1,500 miles these mangoes had traveled only to be tossed out.
When we waste food, all the resources that go into growing, packaging and transporting it are wasted too. One quarter of all water used in the U.S. goes to growing food that is thrown away. Only 5% of food scraps are composted nationally – the rest goes to the dump, where it decomposes to produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. When composting is done properly, the balanced decomposition of organic materials in the compost does not release methane. Organic material that is in a landfill does not receive the proper amount of oxygen, producing methane.
Food isn’t just wasted in households, it’s wasted along the entire supply chain: retailers throw out imperfect produce; cafeterias have lots of leftover lunches; caterers are left with trays of untouched gourmet cuisine after events.
I feel privileged to work with the Pacific Southwest Region’s Zero Waste team on finding ways to chip away at that 40%. We recently released a toolkit that helps restaurants and food services cut back on their food and packaging waste, saving them money while reducing their environmental impact. It’s called the Reducing Wasted Food & Packaging Toolkit.
Understanding waste is the first step toward reducing it. The kit includes an Excel audit tool that allows users to tailor their waste tracking to the level of detail needed for their facility. Once the data is entered, the spreadsheet generates graphs and summaries to help users identify opportunities to reduce waste.
The PDF guide provides source reduction, food donation, and composting strategies. One of my favorite examples is tray-less dining. Simply removing trays at campus dining halls discourages college students from taking more food than they can eat. This strategy has led to a 25-30% reduction in wasted food!
Find more information on how to cut back your food waste at http://epa.gov/waste/conserve/foodwaste/. Together, we can reduce the food we waste, conserve the resources we use to produce it, and help mitigate climate change.
About the author: Amanda Hong is a graduate fellow with EPA’s Region 9 Zero Waste Section and a Master of Public Policy candidate at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. Her work supports EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Program, which seeks to reduce the environmental impact of materials through their entire life cycle, including how they are extracted, manufactured, distributed, used, reused, recycled, and disposed.