source reduction

Feed People, Not the Garbage

By Jenn DeRose, Green Dining Alliance

America wastes a lot of food. It has been estimated that 40 percent of food in this country gets tossed every year. If you’re wondering how to interpret that number, imagine taking nearly half of every meal you eat and dumping it directly in the garbage. Now imagine 318 million of your neighbors doing exactly the same thing.

Food garbageWasting that much food translated into 37 million tons of garbage in 2013, garbage that could’ve had a different fate as nourishment for hungry people. One in seven Americans are food insecure, which means they do not know where their next meal will come from, if they get a next meal.

The Green Dining Alliance (GDA) has always encouraged our member restaurants to minimize their food waste by reducing portion sizes and composting food waste. So when we heard that EPA was co-leading a new initiative to reduce U.S. food waste by 50 percent by 2030, we had to get involved. The GDA joined EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge as an Endorser, promoting the challenge by suggesting our members to join up as Participants.

Food Recovery Challenge Participants are given tools to measure how much food they’ve saved from landfills, including ways to measure how much they’ve reduced their environmental footprint. They are taught to use the Food Recovery Hierarchy as a template for how to best reduce their food waste.

Food Recovery HierarchyWe have a few food-reduction superheroes in our membership. For example, one Asian restaurant has an all-you-can-eat buffet with a twist. It is served Dim Sum style – you are offered small portions of everything on the menu. If you want more, you have to ask for it. You can have as much as you like, but you don’t get more than you need, reducing the waste that is typical of buffets.

We are also proud of our members who compost, which diverts more waste from the landfill and reduces more methane (greenhouse gas emissions) than those who are only recycling. Pound for pound, the comparative impact of methane on climate change is more than 25 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.

Luckily, reducing food waste in your own home is easy. You can use the Food Recovery Hierarchy to get ideas for best practices, like buying less food. Start an audit or mental checklist of the foods you end up throwing away. Do broccoli or potatoes always seem to go bad before you get to cooking them? Consider buying less to start with, or freezing meals and ingredients for later – that’s “source reduction.”

Let your nose check for the freshness of items with expiration dates for which there are no national guidelines (except for baby formula). These dates are set by industry to ensure that customers buy only the very freshest products. This practice unfortunately contributes greatly to food waste, as customers fear that products past the “best by” or “sell by” dates might harm them.

Home compost Bin

Home compost bin

Home composting is also an easy way to keep food out of landfills. Start a pile in your backyard for eggshells, coffee grounds, vegetable trimmings and more.

Food makes up 18 percent of the waste in landfills, contributing 18 percent of our methane emissions. Small steps can make a big difference when fighting the scourge of wasted food. Do your part by visiting GDA restaurants, asking more restaurants to compost, composting at home, ignoring “best by” labels, buying only what you can eat, and eating all you buy.

If America is to cut its food waste in half by 2030, and meet EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge goal, more individuals and industries will have to get aboard the food waste recovery train. Let’s all do our part!

About the Author: Jenn DeRose is program manager of the Green Dining Alliance, a program of St. Louis Earth Day. The GDA is a certification program for restaurants to assess and improve their sustainable practices, including reducing their waste, water, and carbon footprint. Jenn has doubled the GDA’s size in less than a year, now at over 100 members. Jenn is a writer and a LEED Green Associate, and is earning a bachelor’s degree in sustainability at Washington University. She enjoys camping, foraging, birdwatching, and cycling.

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 EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis: Facilities Preventing Pollution

By Kara Koehrn

Our economy produces goods that we depend on in our daily lives, like pharmaceuticals, clothing and cars. Sometimes during the production of those goods, toxic chemicals are released into the environment. But what can be done? Are these inevitable or is there something businesses can do to reduce or even eliminate their releases?

As Americans, we are empowered with information to help answer these questions through EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). I work for TRI, and my coworkers and I are proud to continue a community-right-to-know tradition at EPA in which TRI provides information to the public about toxic chemical releases to air, water and land right on our website. But now we are going further, highlighting examples of how industry is preventing pollution. Here is just a sample:

  • In 2011, many electric utilities installed scrubbers on their stacks which reduced air releases of hazardous air pollutants, including hydrochloric acid and mercury.
  • In the chemical manufacturing industry, some facilities improved their maintenance and production schedules to reduce toxic chemical releases in 2011. One reported reducing ammonia releases to water (a contributor to eutrophication) after instituting better process control and operator training.
  • A facility in the computer and electronics sector reported that in response to a customer’s demand for lead-free services, it used a lead-free product surface finishing line in 2011, and expects to expand this service to other customers.

Facilities report real-world success stories like these to TRI each year, and we are highlighting them in our annual analysis of TRI data, the TRI National Analysis. We publish this report every year, but EPA employees aren’t the only ones who can analyze TRI data. You can use TRI’s new pollution prevention search tool to see which industrial facilities reported the largest reductions and what measures were most effective in achieving these results. Take a look!

I hope you check out the National Analysis and try the new pollution prevention tool to see what toxic chemicals are being released nationwide and what is being done to help clean up your air, water, and land. After all, it’s your right to know.

About the author: Kara Koehrn joined EPA’s Office of Environment Information in Washington, D.C. in 2009 and is the project leader for the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) National Analysis. She has recently sold her car to take full advantage of public transportation in D.C.

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: What are you doing to reduce pollution?

Next year is the 20th anniversary of the Pollution Prevention Act, which made P2 the option of first choice for reducing air emissions, water discharges, preventing health and environmental exposures to harmful substances, and the generation of wastes.  Pollution Prevention Week is September 21-29.

What are you doing to reduce pollution?

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.

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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