food waste

This Earth Day, Learn About Food Recovery

By Michaela Burns

Coming on the heels of the announcement of the first ever national food waste reduction goal—cutting food waste in half by 2030—EPA is celebrating Food Recovery for Earth Day. Let’s look at the history. Every year, 113 billion pounds of food is wasted, which adds up to 161 billion dollars of wasted food!  And if we were to reduce food waste by just 15 % then we could feed more than 25 million Americans.

EPA is involved in numerous efforts to reduce food waste. One of these efforts is taking place in Columbia, South Carolina, through EPA’s Net Zero Initiative, which I wrote about for Science Matters! Click through to read my Science Matters story about how EPA is helping Columbia, South Carolina reduce food waste.

You can also visit EPA’s Sustainable Management of Food website to learn more about food recovery and what you can do to reduce food waste.

About the Author: Michaela Burns is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor and writer for the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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‘Tis the season to be Green!

By Sarah Aquino

Now that Thanksgiving has passed us, it’s starting to feel more like winter here in Washington, DC. Thanksgiving and Christmas just happen to be my favorite holidays. Christmas will creep up on us in a couple of weeks, hopefully with a chance of snow. So, in order to enjoy your holiday season filled with stuffing, mashed potatoes, and a nice hot chocolate with extra (fluffy) marshmallows, here are some tips to go green this season.

My three favorite Rs are Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle!

  • Reduce: When shopping for groceries to make enjoyable meals, plan your list of groceries so you can make sure to buy things on your list. Also, bring reusable cloth bags, or combine your purchases in one big bag rather than getting a new one at each store.
  • Reuse: Get a little creative this season. Use cool wrapping materials, such as posters and maps. Or you can save ribbons and bows you get on your presents and reuse them for next year.

Last, but not least (and my favorite) –

  • RECYCLE: We know it can be a struggle to provide plates and utensils for a big family. Avoid using disposable dishes and utensils when entertaining friends and family. If you happen to buy them, make sure they are compostable and recyclable.

Remember to use these tips and spread the green this holiday season!

About the Author: Sarah Aquino is a senior at the University of Maryland. She is studying Communications with a minor in Sustainability Studies, and will be graduating in May. She is an intern at the Office of Web Communications.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Working with Local Governments and Communities to Fight Food Waste

By Mathy Stanislaus

After returning from our first Food Recovery Summit in Charleston, South Carolina where we announced the 2015 Food Recovery Challenge winners, I found myself thinking about food, and not just the wonderful Charleston restaurants. In 2013, an estimated 35 million tons of food went to landfills and incinerators, accounting for 21% of the American waste stream.

Excessive food waste results in:

  • Social Costs: 48 million Americans, of which roughly 16 million are children, live in homes without enough food. We need to redirect wholesome, nutritious food that otherwise is wasted to families in need.
  • Economic Costs: at the retail and consumer levels food loss and waste is estimated at $161 billion dollars in the U.S.
  • Environmental Costs: Organic material in landfills decomposes and generates methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas. This disposed food is a main contributor to the roughly 18% of total U.S. methane emissions that come from landfills – contributing directly to climate change.

EPA and USDA announced an ambitious 2030 U.S. domestic goal to cut in half food loss and waste by 2030. By Earth Day 2016, we will announce a food loss & waste plan of action to serve as a roadmap for tackling wasted food and to meet the 2030 goal.

Heather McTeer Toney, Regional Administrator for EPA’s Southeast Region (far left) and Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (far right) with Food Recovery Summit attendees.

Heather McTeer Toney, Regional Administrator for EPA’s Southeast Region (far left) and Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (far right) with Food Recovery Summit attendees.

Many local communities are leading the way with novel, game-changing ways to reduce waste while building communities. For example, MB Financial Park in Rosemont, Illinois, one of the 2015 Food Recovery Challenge Winners, developed the “Green for a Reason” program, in which 1,000 employees and 1.6 million visitors recovered more than 150 tons of organic materials.

Other examples of best practices identified at the Food Recovery Summit include: businesses and other organizations donating excess wholesome food to food banks, shelters and soup kitchens; creative re-use of trimmings by a university dining staff; composting in urban settings; and using wasted food to produce electricity. A complete list of the 2015 awardees is at http://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/food-recovery-challenge-results-and-award-winners#2015awards.

It will take every level of government, non-profits, businesses, universities and, most importantly, individuals to make real change in how we view and value food. Making this shift happen relies on changes in all of our behaviors.

Here at EPA, we are working to identify opportunities for achieving responsible and sustainable management of America’s food resources and find the barriers that must be tackled to make progress. We want to partner with states, communities, businesses, NGOs, and charities to help use food in a socially, environmentally, and economically beneficial manner. I believe we can get there and build and energize communities at the same time.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Urban Composting: It’s Always Worth It

By Barbara Pualani

Any household organic material can be composted (and used again!).

Any household organic material can be composted (and used again!).

Earth-friendly urban dwellers know just how precarious composting in the city can be. Storage bags of frozen food waste in the freezer, the subway ride overloaded with multiple bags, sometimes difficult-to-find drop-off sites. I have shared countless stories with friends about urban composting. Shenanigans abound, but we always agree that in the end it’s worth it.

Take a friend of mine that I met as a student at Columbia University. Every week she would bring her compost from New Jersey to the campus farmer’s market. She would carry a week’s worth of food waste one train ride and two subway rides every Thursday. But one day, running late, the farmer’s market closed before she could get there, leaving her stuck with the compost. She wasn’t too worried–until a student meeting ended up lasting four hours. By that time, the forgotten compost was stinking up the room and annoying her fellow students. Luckily, she eventually found a fridge to store it in. Her friends laughed it off.

Composting can sometimes seem pretty inconvenient, so why do it at all? Because food waste is actually a really big problem.

Rotting food in landfills is a substantial source of methane—a greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. In the U.S., landfills account for more than 20 percent of all methane emissions. Organic materials make up the largest portion of this waste. Paper materials comprise 27 percent while yard trimmings and food comprise 28 percent. This means that 55 percent of all waste in this country can potentially be composted rather than rotting in our landfills.

The story sounds dire, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Composting has made substantial headway in recent years.

According to EPA’s Advancing Sustainable Materials Management study released this year, Americans recycled and composted over 87 million tons of waste in 2013, which in carbon dioxide equivalent terms is equal to removing emissions for over 39 million passenger vehicles from the road in one year. The most recent numbers show that 5 percent of food is now composted annually. Over 2.7 million households are served by food composting collection programs nationwide. Even in the city, composting is becoming more convenient. New York City recently mandated composting for all hotel restaurants, arenas and wholesalers, and there are various organics collection services & drop off points for residents in all five boroughs.

On a different Thursday, my friend was again dropping off her compost. She mentioned to the man running the booth that she brought it all the way from New Jersey. Upon hearing this, he bowed his head with his hands folded in prayer and said, “You are an inspiration to us all.” Although we giggled about this later, he’s absolutely right.

This is why we compost—to inspire, to reduce our carbon footprint, and to do our fair share in taking care of this planet.

The biggest lesson we can learn is it’s not just for green-thumbed hippies. One of my favorite stories comes from a former colleague who told me (facetiously, of course) that composting had taken a toll on her marriage. After a year of picking his organics out of the garbage, she finally confronted her husband about his incorrect trash disposal methods. He explained how he didn’t really care about it, and even though he knew she had already explained how to do it, he was still unsure. Because her husband is very Catholic, she resorted to quoting the Pope who believes “everyone has a moral obligation to care for the planet.” Now her husband puts his organics in the compost bags; if he is unsure if the item is compostable, he asks. My colleague ended this story with an assurance and a wink: “I am happily married.”

I like to collect these anecdotes—laughter is the best medicine after all—but they serve to amplify the real problem: organic waste is a serious contributor to climate change, and we all need to do our part to address it. If you’re confused about what’s compostable and what’s not, check out your city’s local web page.  Or, like my friend’s husband, if you’re confused, just ask. It never hurts to research or ask around until you do find someone who knows. And it’s always worth it.

About the author: Barbara Pualani serves as a speechwriter for EPA Region 2. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. She resides in Brooklyn and is a graduate of University of Northern Colorado and Columbia University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Lessons from an Avocado: Making Food Recovery an Everyday Activity 

By Lisa Thresher

It’s lunchtime on a Saturday and my stomach guides me to the kitchen. I notice an avocado sitting on the counter. Perfect, it’ll be a nice addition to a salad! Then I notice grey fuzz protruding from the top of it. My avocado went bad, and is moldy through and through! This is not good – in more ways than one.

Since I’m a new hire in EPA’s Resource Conservation and Pollution Prevention program, one of my main responsibilities is to foster increased food recovery here in the Heartland. So having food spoil is unacceptable to me. Not on my watch! Fortunately, I know of a resource to help me prevent more food from spoiling.

Lisa (center) as EPA coordinator at first food waste audit at Haskell University in Lawrence, Kan.

Lisa (center) as EPA coordinator at first food waste audit at Haskell University in Lawrence, Kan.

EPA has partnered with the West Coast Climate and Materials Management Forum on a toolkit called Food: Too Good to Waste. This resource is designed specifically to help household consumers buy what they need, use what they have, and minimize waste as much as possible. Usually, the toolkit is utilized on a community-wide scale, where a neighborhood signs up to use the toolkit for a few weeks and tracks its progress.

One of the toolkit’s strategies and tools that is directly applicable to my current situation is the Fruit and Vegetable Storage Guide. Following the case of my avocado, I’d have known to refrigerate it once it ripened. Thankfully, this convenient guide is available online, or I might’ve panicked and stuffed all my fruits and vegetables into the refrigerator to prevent them from spoiling.

Another unfortunate result of wasting my avocado is the loss of time and resources that went into producing it. I’m not just referring to the money I spent to buy it, but the natural resources, energy, time, and labor as well. When pondering the entire life cycle of the avocado, I think about the land, pesticides and fertilizers used, the farm equipment likely powered by fossil fuels, the time and effort spent by the farmer, and other farm-related operations.

My avocado’s journey on2015-9-11 Thresher Food Recovery 2 a farm is only one part of its life cycle. Considering all the steps involved in getting it from the farm to the store where I bought it, I’m amazed that all of that went into one piece of fruit. It’s not easy to make the connection between the complex process that brought the avocado to me as a consumer and the money that I paid for it.

This blog is about my unfortunate avocado, but the story of sustainable food management is a much bigger one – not only a national concern, but a global one. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2011, about one-third of all food products – equivalent to 1.3 billion tons – are lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems worldwide every year. This is a monumental loss that impacts people, the economy, and the planet.

I’ve learned my lesson about food spoilage and will continue to refine my food purchasing, storage, and consumption habits. We’re fortunate that EPA and other agencies have plenty of resources to help us prevent the loss of food. Pair them with focused daily efforts, and throwing food in the trash will be a thing of the past.

Well, I‘m off to compost this avocado so it can at least go into the soil – instead of my lunch!

About the Author: Lisa Thresher is a Life Scientist with EPA Region 7’s Air and Waste Management Division. She recently graduated from Philadelphia University with a degree in environmental sustainability and a minor in law and society. Lisa is a Philadelphia native and has an affinity for the arts and staying active.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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My Very Own Brown Bin

By Sophia Kelley

#BrownBin in Brooklyn

#BrownBin in Brooklyn

I was elated to see a flyer in my mailbox from the NYC Department of Sanitation this week. Why? Because it said that my building would be one of the 35,000 new households to be part of the city’s expanded organics collection pilot program. In other words, we’re getting our very own brown bin! Perfect timing because our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) just started summer distributions and the amount of food scraps produced in our kitchen has already increased.

All the buildings in my neighborhood received the bins for food and yard waste and each individual apartment was given a small container for collecting kitchen scraps. The brown bins go to the curb once a week with our regular recycling pick up. Until now, we had to collect our food waste and take it to a community garden or farmer’s market for composting, but now it’s easier than ever to recycle our organic waste.

This is great news because food makes up the largest percentage of waste going to landfills each year and uneaten food rotting in landfills accounts for almost 25 percent of U.S. methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas. So think about climate change the next time you toss your leftover lunch into the trash.

Instructions for the NYC Organics Collection Program

Instructions for the NYC Organics Collection Program

Instead of landfills, our organic waste is going to be turned into compost to help keep the soil in New York City’s parks healthy. Some of the scraps are also going to be collected and taken to the Newtown Creek sewage treatment plant. The waste will be put to use in an anaerobic digestion process that will capture the methane and convert it to biogas which can then be used to generate electricity… all from your old pizza crusts!

If your neighborhood has not been included yet in the organics recycling program, don’t worry – the city’s goal is to provide all New Yorkers access to organics recycling by 2018. Until then, do your best to prevent food waste and take your kitchen scraps to the nearest compost collection project.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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#EarthDayEveryday

This Earth Day, let’s commit ourselves, our families, and our communities to work toward a brighter environmental future. I’ll be taking part in a service learning project tomorrow with Washington, DC’s Earth Conservation Corps to help clean up the Anacostia River, and I encourage you to serve at an Earth Day event in your community.

But there’s no need to wait until Earth Day—there’s a lot we can do every day to help protect the environment and the climate, while keeping our families healthy and saving money.

Here are just a few ideas:

Reduce food waste. The average family throws away $1,600 a year on wasted food, and rotting food in landfills releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This toolkit can help your family save money and reduce their climate impact with some basic planning and organizing. And by composting food scraps, you can help feed the soil and keep your plants and gardens healthy.

Look for EPA labels when you shop. EPA’s Energy Star, WaterSense, and Safer Choice labels help Americans choose products that save them money, reduce energy and water use, and keep their homes safer from harmful chemicals. Products that carry these labels are backed by trusted EPA science.

 

Wash your clothes in cold water. 90 percent of your washing machine’s energy goes toward heating water, while just 10 percent goes toward running the motor. Consider switching to cold water—along with cold-water detergent—and save your family money on your electric bill.

 

Make your home more energy efficient. EPA’s ENERGY STAR program goes beyond labeling energy efficient products. Our new Home Advisor tool can help you create a prioritized list of energy efficient home improvement projects tailored specifically to your home.

 

 

Learn how to fix water leaks. The average family loses over 10,000 gallons of water each year to leaks. This guide will show you how to find and fix leaks in your home so you can conserve water and save on your water bill.

 

 

 

E-cycle your electronic waste. Spring is a great time to clean and de-clutter. If you’re looking to finally get rid of that old TV, computer or mobile device, this guide can help you find safe ways to recycle it in your state.

 

 

 

Green your commute. To get exercise and limit your carbon footprint, walk, bike, or take public transportation whenever you can. Leaving your car at home just 2 days a week can prevent 2 tons of carbon pollution every year.

When you drive, look for gas containing biofuel to help reduce carbon pollution from your vehicle. To maximize gas mileage, get regular tune-ups, and keep your tires fully inflated. And if you’re in the market for a new car, consider making your next vehicle a fuel-efficient, low greenhouse-gas model and save money on fuel.

EPA is taking national action to fight climate change and protect the environment, but we can all take small steps to keep our families healthy, make our homes safer, and save money. When we do, we help protect the one planet we’ve got.

What will you do? Let us know at #EarthDayEveryday

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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This Year’s Super Bowl Filled 70,000 Plates on the Path to Zero Waste

superbowl##

This post is a follow-up to my “AZ I See It” column in the Arizona Republic on January 26, 2015.

This year during the Super Bowl, the first “Kick the Waste” campaign took place at Super Bowl Central—the 12-block area in the heart of downtown Phoenix where thousands enjoyed parties and live music in the week leading up to the championship game. The city was host to quite a party on Superbowl Sunday. Fans gathered for good football and good food, whether they joined in the downtown celebrations, tailgated outside the stadium, or ordered from vendors in the stands.

All too often, what’s not consumed goes to waste. Every year Americans throw away more food than any other type of waste — almost 35 million tons — and much of it is still edible. The “Kick the Waste” campaign — a collaboration between the city of Phoenix, nonprofit food rescue organization Waste Not, the National Football League, the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, vendors and fans — worked to make sure that any leftover food was shared with those who needed a good meal, and any waste was disposed of in the most beneficial way for the environment.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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11 Sports Teams and Leagues That Have Gone Green

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Carly Carroll

It’s a big week in sports. Folks are getting ready for the big game, and if you’re a hockey fan, there’s a lot of excitement out on the ice. So this week we’re focusing in on the ways that sports teams, stadiums and fans can reduce their environmental impact and take action on climate.

The great news is that many sports teams and leagues have already scored some big environmental goals. Read on to learn about a few of the big steps they’ve taken on the environment.

  1. The Philadelphia Eagles run an efficient offense under Chip Kelly and have started to bring efficiency to their cleaning strategy as well. They are using greener cleaning products that don’t contain chemicals that can harm the environment.
  2. The National Hockey League is on a power play on a number of environmental initiatives, including purchasing wind energy credits to offset all of its electricity usage for its headquarters in New York City.
  3. Consol Energy Center, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins, is the first NHL arena to be LEED Gold Certified – the second highest level of certification.
  4. Every year, the National Basketball Association hosts NBA Green Week where it highlights what teams and players are doing to take action for a cleaner environment.
  5. The Boston Red Sox recently wrapped up a new “green monster” in Fenway Park – a five-year plan that included the installation of enough solar panels to provide 37% of their energy.
  6. While Corey Kluber fanned a lot of batters in 2014 en route to his AL Cy Young, the Cleveland Indians fanned their way to clean energy, becoming the first MLB team to install a wind turbine.
  7. The Miami Marlins are sliding into 2015 with a groundbreaking reduction in water use. New plumbing fixtures and water use plans will reduce their use by an estimated 52%, while changes to their landscape design mean a 60% reduction in water for irrigation.
  8. About 65% of the waste generated at PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, gets recycled. According to the Pirates, if the plastic bottles they’ve recycled were laid flat end to end, they would stretch from PNC Park to Yankee Stadium and back again.
  9. The St. Louis Cardinals are knocking it out of the park when it comes to reducing wasted food. Since 2008, they’ve delivered $159,462 of safe, healthy leftover food to those who need a good meal.
  10. The Seattle Mariners took a big step adding Robinson Cano to their lineup in 2014. The club has also taken big steps to enhance their energy efficiency and reduce water use. They’ve saved more than $1.75 million in electricity, gas, water and sewer bills since 2006.
  11. The Washington Nationals are leading the league on green building. Nationals Park was the first major professional stadium to become LEED Silver Certified.

Many teams, leagues and stadiums are involved with programs here at EPA like the Food Recovery Challenge and the Green Power Partnership. Check out our Green Sports website to learn more.

About the Author: Carly Carroll has worked in public engagement and environmental education for 8 years. She enjoys connecting the sports world with EPA and teaching kids about nature. She graduated from NC State University with a Masters in Science Education, but is a die-hard Tar Heel fan.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Food Waste Diversion is Key to a Sustainable Community

By Lillianne Brown

Editor’s note: We’re happy to have this blog post from one of this year’s President’s Environmental Youth Award winners.

Over 20% of our country’s landfills consist of food we throw away.

When this organic waste breaks down in the landfill with other types of waste, it produces methane gas. When organic waste breaks down separate from the other waste in your composting bin, it creates carbon dioxide. Both methane and carbon dioxide are greenhouse gases, but methane is over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere. Plus, the compost created from the diverted organic waste is a nutrient rich soil that can be used to garden. Diverting food waste is important because it turns something usually considered waste into a resource, which also decreases the amount of emissions from landfills.

Our project, Zero Waste Composting, has worked with area businesses, restaurants and schools to help divert food waste from landfills. Reducing organic waste has had a significant impact here in Iowa City. Our landfill is able to now produce more compost for the community to use. More people are educated on why composting is important and how they can take part in reducing organic waste in landfills. And, it saves space in the landfills, is economically viable because it generates money for the landfill, and produces less harmful greenhouse gases.

Students diverting food waste instead of throwing it away.

Students diverting food waste instead of throwing it away.

The diversion process and its benefits shouldn’t only be limited to our community. Many communities can get involved and help decrease the amount of food waste being sent to their landfills. Diversion can take place in homes, schools, restaurants and businesses.

At home, families can create a backyard compost pile that can benefit their garden. Food scraps, like coffee filters, egg shells and vegetable and fruit scraps can all be composted in a home composting area. Schools, restaurants and businesses can also start diverting their food waste. It’s an easy transition, with many third-party businesses willing to help. Most food waste, including meat and dairy, can be diverted when being sent to a commercial composting facility. The food waste is then hauled away to a composting facility.

Other cities and towns can learn from our successes and divert food waste from their landfills as well. Communities should start by contacting their local landfill to see what options are available for organic waste diversion in their region. Schools, restaurants and businesses should then educate students, employees and consumers about the benefits of composting before implementing a diversion program. If a compost facility is unavailable in a region, communities can still divert organic waste by showing families how to create backyard compost piles and compost their home food and yard scraps. The model we used is simple, and many communities can implement it.

About the author: Lillianne Brown is a senior at Iowa City High School in Iowa City. She is a member of the Zero Waste Composting team and won the President’s Environmental Youth Award in 2014.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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