Food

Hunger in My Neighborhood

By Mike Frankel

I occasionally work from home on Fridays, and as a treat, I pick up a great homemade meatball sandwich from a spot not far from my home in South Philly. The route takes me alongside the I-95 overpass. For months, I saw lines of people stretching for several blocks under the overpass. It didn’t matter the weather – rain or shine, hot or cold – there was a line, and I couldn’t figure out what everyone was waiting for. Perhaps a casino bus to Atlantic City?

One cold, dreary Friday, I took a late lunch – and there they were, in line as always: all ages, all
races, all sizes. But for the first time, the line was moving. I pulled up to the curb, eager to finally see what was so important that people had been lining up for months. Then I saw the truck. Its sign read “PHILABUNDANCE” – our area’s major hunger-relief organization. They weren’t waiting for a casino
jaunt. They were waiting for food!

I was shocked and felt somewhat guilty sitting in my warm, dry car with my $10 lunch. How could
this be happening in my diverse middle/working-class neighborhood? Leaving the truck with a bag of food was a familiar face. In that moment, I realized hunger isn’t something that happens elsewhere – my neighbors were hungry.

Shortly after that experience, EPA started working on a new program called the Food Recovery Challenge. I signed on immediately. You may be wondering what EPA has to do with food. Turns out food comprises 21% of municipal waste sent to landfills, more than paper and plastic. That’s not just a hunger problem; unlike other kinds of waste, food decomposes rapidly and becomes a significant source of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas which contributes to climate change. Yet every day, we waste enough food to fill the Rose Bowl Stadium. In 2011, that added up to 36 million tons of food, nearly all of which was sent to landfills or incinerators.

The sad thing is that most of this food is still wholesome and nutritious. Yet one in six Americans are food-insecure: unsure of where their next meal might come from. Diverting even a small portion of the food wasted could potentially feed millions of our neighbors. EPA is working with organizations to buy smarter and divert good food away from landfills to groups like PHILABUNDANCE. And for food unsuitable for feeding families, we’re encouraging organizations to send it to places that compost it to create nutrient-rich natural fertilizer. After all, that will create soil for growing healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables that help feed us. Now that’s a true model of sustainability!

For more information on Food Recovery and what you can do.

About the author: Mike Frankel is a communications coordinator in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office. He is part of an agency-wide group promoting food recovery and sustainability.

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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All I Want for Christmas is…Some Water Saving Tips

By Christina Catanese

This weekend was one of major holiday prep for me.  I did laundry.  I cleaned the house.  I baked.  I washed dishes.  I cooked.  I washed more dishes.  I did some holiday arts and crafts.  I had some friends over for dinner.  I washed even more dishes.  I did even more laundry washing the towels and sheets used by early holiday guests that had come and gone.  Around the third round of washing dishes (incidentally, my least favorite household task), I realized that most of the things I was doing involved using a whole lot of water.

‘Tis the season to be doing a lot of entertaining, and that can involve more water use than usual.  Here are some tips for conserving water and energy this holiday season:

While you’re eating:The dishes never end!

  • Don’t run the tap when washing dishes.  Plugging the drain, filling the sink with soapy water, and scrubbing and rinsing from there can reduce how much water you use cleaning all those holiday pots, pans, and dishes.
  • Most dishwashers will clean your plates just fine if you just scrape off food scraps and put them right in the dishwasher. So you don’t need to double down on your water use by rinsing dishes in the sink before putting them in the dishwasher.
  • Speaking of food scraps, food waste tends to spike in the holiday season.  This impacts our water resources indirectly – all the water and resources put into the growing, manufacturing, and selling of our food goes to waste if the food ends up in a landfill.  Learn more about how you can reduce food waste.  You can also add certain food scraps to a compost pile if you have one instead of using a garbage disposal, which uses water and adds the mashed up food to the wastewater stream to be treated.
  • To reduce the number of loads of dishes you have to do, make sure that your dishwasher is fully loaded every time you run it.  Use the water saving settings if your appliance has them.
  • Save water and the energy used by your hot water heater by thawing foods in the microwave or overnight in the fridge, instead of running hot water over them.
  • The amount of water wasted while you let it run until it’s cool can really add up.  To have nice cool water for your holiday meals, fill a pitcher with water a few hours before and store it in the fridge until dinner time.

While you’re cleaning:

  • Save water (and make that pile of laundry disappear a little faster) by only washing and drying full loads every time, and using the appropriate setting on your machine to the size of the load you’re washing.
  • Using cold water whenever possible can reduce the energy needed to wash your clothes, as well as your energy bills.

Happy Holidays!While you’re shopping:

  • If you’re anything like me, you’re doing some last-minute, crazed holiday shopping and could use some inspiration for gift ideas.  Water-efficient appliances can make great gifts!  Faucet aerators are small and reasonably priced – perfect for a stocking stuffer!  Water-efficient showerheads, too.
  • A rain barrel could also be a great gift to help your loved ones conserve water during the summer months, although you’ll need a pretty big stocking for that one, and it might not fit down the chimney.
  • Looking for a bigger ticket item and long-term investment?  Check out Water Sense for efficient toilets and other appliances, and Energy Star for efficient washing machines and dishwashers.

How are you saving water this holiday season?  Tell us in the comments section.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

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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Reducing Food Waste, Saving Money, Protecting the Environment

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By Pete Pearson

I’m Pete Pearson and I’m the Director of Sustainability for SUPERVALU, a national grocery retail and pharmacy company. I’m responsible for developing and implementing the sustainability strategy for all ten SUPERVALU chains. I recently recorded a podcast with Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. We discussed the important issues of wasted food, and what SUPERVALU and EPA are doing to reduce food waste, save money and protect the environment, and our participation in EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge.

In 2010 and 2011, for the first time in the company’s history, SUPERVALU’s recycling income was greater than its landfill expenses.  Our stores across the country are participating in food bank donation programs, giving millions of meals to hungry people; food that would have otherwise gone to waste.  Our stores are looking for ways to divert food waste and organic material to secondary uses, including compost facilities.  To date, over half of the SUPERVALU network of stores is composting and/or diverting organic material away from landfills.
I am working hard to encourage our stores to “know their garbage” and recognize the valuable commodities in the waste stream. Through our programs, we’ve found that with operational changes such as asking departments to source separate, 90 percent or more of the “waste” from a typical grocery store can be reused, recycled or used to feed people in need.  What initially starts as a behavior change quickly becomes the “new normal.” Our stores can’t imagine going backwards to the old days of throwing everything in a compactor.
By participating in EPA programs like the Food Recovery Challenge, our business is improving the measurement and transparency of critical data. This partnership also spawns a much needed culture where the private sector and government can work together to solve issues. Building relationships is paramount, since business and government are not going to solve our country’s problems alone.
Changing what we throw away not only reduces our expenses, but it changes our attitude towards waste in general; a new attitude that can also be applied to the products and services we provide. We are working with produce suppliers to package products in reusable/recyclable containers instead of unrecyclable material. SUPERVALU believes that what we waste defines what we value. We are committed to achieving zero waste and placing value on people, planet, and profit.

About the author: Pete Pearson is the Director of Sustainability for SUPERVALU which is an EPA Food Recovery Challenge participant. He is responsible for the sustainability strategy and execution for all 10 SUPERVALU grocery chains, Albertsons, Cub Foods, Hornbachers, Shop n’Save, Jewel-Osco, Save-a-Lot, Shaw’s, ACME, Shoppers, and Farm Fresh. Pete’s interests include developing closed-loop waste cycles (Zero-Waste) and creating an effective logistics program through which grocery stores can more efficiently source fresh food from local farmers.

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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What’s in Your Town’s Litter?

By Nancy Grundahl

Litter! Oh how I hate it! I hate it so much I decided to do something about it. I started picking it up. Every work day I take a bag with me and pick up litter on my walk home from the train station. I am always amazed at how much I find.

After a while I noticed a curious thing about the litter in the town where I live. Most of our litter is food-related: beverage cans, bottles and bottle caps, straws, candy and gum wrappers, take-out containers, plastic utensils, napkins… A distant second is paper, mainly ATM and store receipts and old mail that escaped from our paper recycling pickup on Mondays.

So, I searched the web and found, much to my surprise, that what I am finding is not unusual. Food-related waste makes up the highest percentage of litter in other places in the U.S. too. Here is a sample of what I found.

·    Northeast 2010 Litter Survey of Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire Conducted for the American Beverage Association

o    “Miscellaneous paper and plastic (odd scraps of material) comprised the two largest components of litter; candy, snack wrappers, and fast food packaging together represented between 29 and 30 percent of litter; and beverage containers was similar, ranging from 5.6 percent to 7.9 percent.”

·    Clean Water Action – California

o    “Most of the products collected were food and beverage packaging: 48 percent food packaging, 19 percent beverage packaging, 15 percent non-packaging, 9 percent other packaging, 9 percent tobacco packaging.”

·    City of Hampton, Virginia

  • “Fast food, snack, tobacco, and other packaging dominated the types of litter that were larger than 4 inches in size – they were 46 percent of the total.”
  • “Main Types of Litter – Fast Food Waste 33 percent”
  • “The items most often found during litter cleanups are fast-food wrappers. The second-most-often found items are aluminum beer cans, followed very closely by soda cans.”

Have you ever thought about what’s in your town’s litter? The next time there is a cleanup day, go a step further and count and categorize the wastes you collect. You might even want to take some photos. Or, do as I have, start picking up litter on your walks and see what you find.

Why is this important? What you discover will be helpful when looking for the best approach to preventing the litter in the first place. When you figure out the sources, you’ll have a better idea of how to make it stop.

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy also writes for the “Healthy Waters for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region” blog.

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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The World’s Worst Composter Hits Pay Dirt

By Pam Lazos

Let me start by saying that I’m relatively new to the sport of composting. For the decade I lived in Philadelphia there was no place for a bin, and for next decade I had my hands full with an extensive home restoration project: new walls, new windows, new wiring, a top-to-bottom job – not an excuse, I know, but a person can only handle so much. So it’s only in the last decade that I’ve taken up composting.

Composting is one of the easiest, most sustainable activities around, but somehow I’ve managed to make it both difficult and anxiety-producing. Perhaps because I work here at EPA I feel I should excel in this environmentally-friendly activity. Nonetheless, I am convinced I am the world’s worst composter.

Every evening when I make salad, cut fruit, prepare vegetables, or clean the non-meat, non-grain discards from the plates, I set aside the remnants in a bowl or bag. After dinner, one of the kids runs it out back to our fancy compost bin. I first used a rather small bin, but results were snail-like so I amped it up with this larger fancy-pants model. The six-tiered design allows me to disassemble it, turn the soil, and put it back together with the utmost of ease.

However, we’re still talking refuse, and fluttering around the refuse is a barrage of fruit flies and other winged demons that rise up in protest every time I open the lid to deposit my castoffs. It gets worse. I had been filling this bin for three years and never once turned the soil.

Embarrassed by my incompetence, I decided, just for kicks, to get out there with a shovel since none of my kids could be bribed. To combat the creepy flying things, I donned my husband’s beekeeper hood and prepared to be attacked. I had low expectations, but after the first turn of the soil, I was amazed. Beneath the still recognizable orange peels and pineapple rinds, the discarded zucchini ends and apple cores, was none other than black gold.Beautiful, black, rich, fertile soil that I intend to spread on my flower garden this fall — using the bee hood, of course. So I’m here to tell you, if the world’s worst composter can do it, you can too!

About the author: Pam Lazos, one of our attorneys, about her experiences with composting.

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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September is Hunger Awareness Month

By Sarah Dominguez

As a kid, I considered “food waste” to be the uneaten broccoli I left on my plate. Today, as a University of Southern California Masters Fellow with the EPA, my definition has changed dramatically. Why? I’ve since learned that wasted food includes much, much more than vegetables avoided by picky eaters. In fact, a significant portion- over 20 percent- of all the waste that is dumped into our landfills each year is… wasted food. Even more compelling is how food waste contributes to climate change by producing methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And here’s the worst part- while 1 in 6 American’s struggle to find their next meal, a significant portion of what goes into the landfills is wholesome, edible food.

Armed with this knowledge, I and a team of others here at EPA are dedicated to feeding people, not landfills through the Sustainable Materials Management Program’s (SMM) Food Recovery Challenge. As we focus on the Challenge for Hunger Awareness Month, we recognize that the efforts to divert food from landfills is part of the solution to the hunger epidemic. If nearly 14% of our nation’s population does not have reliable access to food, it’s almost too simple – instead of throwing away wholesome, edible food, why not donate it to someone in need?

A large amount of food going to landfills from commercial kitchens or grocers is still wholesome and edible. For example, a store may throw away a three-pound bag of oranges even if just one starts to go bad. If instead the grocer removes the one bad orange and donates the rest, they can provide a fresh healthy alternative to the typical non-perishable items in food banks. For example, in 2011 Oregon-based grocer, New Seasons Markets, donated 1,040 tons of food to local food rescue organizations. That’s a lot of meals and a lot of avoided waste that results in cost savings and support to local communities. Many other organizations see the value in feeding those in need by donating. They are working with EPA through the Food Recovery Challenge to improve sustainable food waste management practices through donation and other approaches such as improved purchasing, and composting.

Why should nutritious food end up in the dumpster when there are 50 million people in the U.S. that don’t know where their next meal is coming from? While there are challenges to food donation such as refrigerated trucks for perishables, there are also misconceptions that can be overcome through education. For example, some potential food donors may worry about liability, but the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act has protected food donors since 1996 (as long as the donor follows proper handling laws and donates in good faith). Thankfully more and more organizations are signing up for the SMM Food Recovery Challenge, showing how we can address environmental and equity challenges simultaneously by finding ways to feed people instead of landfills. As an individual, you can help by donating food too. Learn how.

Let’s keep this Food Recovery Challenge conversation going, not just in September for Hunger Awareness Month, but all year long.

About the author: Sarah is a University of Southern California Masters Fellow in EPA’s San Francisco Office. She works on the Sustainable Materials Management Program’s Food Recovery Challenge. In her Urban Planning program at USC, she studies sustainable land use and environmental justice focusing on the built environment.

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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Virtual Water, Real Impacts: World Water Day 2012

By Christina Catanese

In this digital age, it seems everything is becoming virtual.  There are virtual pets, virtual reality, virtual keyboards, and virtual books.  From your computer, you can shop virtually, and take virtual tours.

But virtual water?  How does that work?  We can’t consume water that we can’t see… or can we?

Virtual water is a concept that refers to the water needed to make a product.  We know we should drink 8 glasses of water a day to be hydrated, but it’s easy to overlook the gallons and gallons of water required to produce the food we eat and the things we buy.  This water is virtual in that the end-consumer of a product is not directly using water, but there was water that went into producing the item.  So by consuming these items, we use water indirectly, hence virtually. You might be surprised at how much the hidden water that we consume adds up.

Let’s take the cheeseburger I had for lunch yesterday, for example.  Estimates are that a 1/3 pound burger requires 660 gallons of water to be produced, most of which is for the beef.  One pound of beef requires 1,799 gallons, a pound of cheese requires 700 gallons, and two slices of bread require 22 gallons.  Why does meat require so much more water?  Well, it factors in what’s needed during the entire life of a cow: water for the animal to drink, to grow feed and hay, and to keep stables and farmyards clean.  Guess I should have gone with the salad after all: lettuce only takes about 13 gallons per pound to produce.

Once I started looking for this hidden water, the amount of water I found that I eat got higher quickly, and I started to see connections.  How much water did it take to grow the coffee I drank this morning, and to produce the milk and sugar I put in it?  The banana I put in my cereal?  The cereal itself?  The candy bar I had for a mid-afternoon boost?

Beyond diet, what about the paper all over my desk (1,321 gallons to make 500 sheets)?  The jeans I’m wearing (2,900 gallons for one pair)?  How about the water it takes to produce the fuel that brought all these things to Philadelphia for me to use and consume?  And the energy to power all my appliances at home?  The hidden water we use really adds up, and when you do the math, it starts to seem much more real than virtual.

The estimates of virtual water in this post come from National Geographic and the Water Footprint Network.  Check out this Water Footprint Calculator to see how much water you’re using, virtual or otherwise!  Are you surprised by these numbers?  Do they make you want to change your consumption habits?  WaterSense labeled appliances are one way to reduce your water footprint; what others can you think of?

 

March 22 is World Water Day, a commemorative day by the United Nations to raise awareness about water issues.  This year’s WWD focuses on water and food security and production all over the world.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

 

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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Follow-Up: Do You Pay Attention to Where Your Food Comes From?

About the author: Dominic Bridgers was a summer intern in the Office of Public Affairs.

To be honest, I really don’t pay attention to where my food comes from. I usually eat whatever is in front of me.

I collected data from the July 14th Question of the Week: “Do you pay attention to where your food comes from?” Almost all of the commenters said they do pay attention to where their food comes from, and a handful of the bloggers are like me and just eat what is on their plate. The primary reason as to why people pay attention is health concerns. Something I found interesting was that everyone tends to buy their food from their local markets instead of purchasing foods from different countries.

Thanks for your time in responding to “Do you pay attention to where your food comes from?”

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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Question of the Week: Do you pay attention to where your food comes from?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Much of the food we buy is grown in other places and transported to markets or restaurants where we live. Some people have tried to be “locavores,” consuming only locally-grown food or products, in an effort to reduce the environmental impacts from transportation, cold storage, or others.

Do you pay attention to where your food comes from?

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En español: Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

Gran parte de los alimentos que compramos son cultivados en otros lugares y transportados a mercados o restaurantes cerca de donde vivimos. Algunas personas han tratado de ser “locávoros” o “locávores” al tratar de consumir sólo aquellos alimentos o productos que han sido cultivados localmente en un esfuerzo por reducir los impactos medioambientales de la transportación, el almacenaje frigorífico, u otros.

¿Usted presta atención al lugar de donde provienen sus alimentos?

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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