waste

Helping the Hungry and the Environment this Holiday Season

By Gabrielle Posard

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

Five years ago, I was inspired to create a non-profit after learning a shocking statistic: one in five people in our country struggle to feed their families, while billions of pounds of good food are dumped into landfills.

This rotting food is a major source of methane gas, which speeds up climate change. It also wastes precious resources like water and is one of the largest sources of solid waste by weight.

Sadly, a third of the food that’s grown and bought in the U.S. gets wasted and thrown away. Millions of tons of fruit and vegetables rot in fields because they are misshapen or discolored. Major retail grocery chains are more likely to throw away fruits, vegetables, dairy and meats than to donate them to food banks. Although the federal “Good Samaritan Food Donation Act” protects grocers, growers, and food companies from liability, many are unaware of the legislation.

Most food reaching its “best before date” or “freshest by date” remains edible for up to one week if refrigerated properly. Foods with short shelf lives are most often tossed in grocery store dumpsters, but that food is often the healthiest. Diverting that good food to food banks instead of dumping it lowers the company’s dumpster fees, has potential tax benefits and reduces landfill waste.

The non-profit I founded addresses critical environmental concerns created by commercial food waste; millions of pounds of healthy short shelf life foods can feed hungry children instead of clogging landfills. We’ve also provided volunteer opportunities to thousands of teens across multiple states. Most of these teens were previously unaware of the environmental issues food waste creates and had never volunteered before to help the environment.

The holidays are a time many Americans give thanks for what they have, and want to help those who are struggling. We invite you to get involved this holiday season to decrease food waste, help alleviate hunger, and raise awareness about commercial food waste.

Gabrielle at the food distribution her non-profit, Donate Don’t Dump, runs where over 4,000 pounds of rescued food go to hundreds of people twice a month. This year, they were credited with an increase of over 1,000,000 total pounds in rescued food donations for one food bank alone, which went to feed families, not landfills.

Gabrielle at the food distribution her non-profit, Donate Don’t Dump, runs where over 4,000 pounds of rescued food go to hundreds of people twice a month. This year, they were credited with an increase of over 1,000,000 total pounds in rescued food donations for one food bank alone, which went to feed families, not landfills.

About the author: Gabrielle created Donate Don’t Dump as a way to get surplus and short-dated food from grocers, growers and food companies donated to the hungry instead of dumped into landfills. Her non-profit is 100% volunteer and teen-run with over 4,000 participants.

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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Combating Wasted Food: Good for the Environment, Good for Your Bottom Line

Here’s a really smart way for businesses – from restaurants to grocery store chains to hotels and more – to boost their bottom lines: Reduce wasted food.

This week we’re holding a week of action on wasted food. It’s all about sustainability – environmentally and economically – and how we meet the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet the needs of tomorrow.

In 2012, the United States threw away about 35 million tons of food – more than any other type of waste going to landfills. When that wasted food gets to the landfill, it rots, generating methane gas – one of the most potent contributors to climate change. All of this waste also squanders the water, energy, nutrients and money used to transport that food.

At the same time, many Americans don’t know where their next meal will come from. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that, in 2012, 14 percent of households regularly did not have enough food to live active, healthy lifestyles.

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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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Reducing Food Waste and Promoting Food Recovery Globally

As we approach Thanksgiving, some of you will be sitting down with family and friends over a bounty of delicious food, while others may use this occasion to donate their time volunteering in food pantries or kitchens supporting efforts to distribute a meal to those less fortunate.

An estimated one third of food available goes uneaten, much of it going to landfills where it produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas, contributing to climate change. Food waste now represents the single largest category of materials sent to landfills in the U.S. Globally, nearly one-third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, which would be enough to feed approximately 2 billion people worldwide, and accounts for 6-10 percent of human-generated greenhouse gases.

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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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Who Are This Year’s Innovators Tackling Climate Change and Promoting Energy Efficiency?

The 2014 winners of the Presidential Green Chemistry Awards have done it again. These scientists are helping to crack the code and solve some of the most challenging problems facing our modern society. They are turning climate risk and other problems into a business opportunity, spurring innovation and investment. They are reducing waste – energy, chemicals and water waste – while cutting manufacturing costs, and sparking investments.
Take a look at some of this year’s promising innovations:

New Bus Fuel Could Reduce Greenhouse Gases by 82%. Making and burning this new fuel could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to petroleum diesel. Amyris (in California) has engineered a yeast to make a renewable fuel replacement for petroleum diesel. Since carbon pollution increases our costs in health care and other impacts, this technology could save tens of thousands of dollars each year.

New LED Lighting Material Could Save you 36% on Energy Bills. If QD Vision, Inc’s (in Massachusetts) technology were used in just 10% of flat-screen TVs, we could save 600 million kilowatt-hours worldwide every year – enough to provide electricity for 50,000 homes for one year! Even better, producing these materials avoids the need for about 40,000 gallons of solvents per year. This technology brings massive energy savings and is good for the planet, with reduced carbon emissions, heavy metals emissions, and less use of toxic chemicals.

New Safer Firefighting foam. This new foam doesn’t contain persistent toxic chemicals that can accumulate in our blood and that of animals. The Solberg Company (in Wisconsin) used surfactants and sugars that can fight fires more effectively than before. One of the world’s largest oil and gas companies will use it to fight fuel fires and spills. The product works better and is safer – a win-win for industry and for protecting our health and the environment.

Making Pills While Reducing Chemicals and Waste. The manufacturing process for pills can create toxic waste. Professor Shannon S. Stahl at the University of Wisconsin has discovered a way to safely use oxygen instead of hazardous chemicals in a step commonly used while making medicine. If brought to market, these methods could have a big impact on the industry, reducing chemicals, reducing waste, and saving companies time and money.

Making Soaps, Laundry Detergents, Food Products, and Fuels While Reducing Energy and Water Use, Waste, and Impacts on Forests. These everyday products can now be produced with much less energy, water, and waste, thus saving money. Solazyme, Inc. (in California) has developed novel oils from sugar and engineered algae in a way that significantly reduces the environmental effects that typically occur in producing and processing some oils. Also, the company’s palm-oil equivalent can help reduce deforestation and greenhouse gases that can occur from cultivation of palm oil.

As you can see, the Presidential Green Chemistry Award winners are solving real-world problems through scientific innovations. These prestigious awards are challenging American researchers and innovators to use their talent to improve our health, environment, and the economy.

During the 19 years of EPA’s Green Chemistry program, we have received more than 1,500 nominations and presented awards to 98 technologies. Winning technologies are responsible for annually reducing the use or generation of more than 826 million pounds of hazardous chemicals, saving 21 billion gallons of water, and eliminating 7.8 billion pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent releases to air.

An independent panel of technical experts convened by the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute formally judged the 2014 submissions from among scores of nominated technologies and made recommendations to EPA for the 2014 winners. The 2014 awards event will be held in conjunction with an industry partners’ roundtable.

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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American Ingenuity on Display at Next Gen Tech Demo Day

•Administrator McCarthy, then-Deputy Administrator Perciasepe and Assistant Administrator Giles learn about water pollution monitoring technology.

Administrator McCarthy, then-Deputy Administrator Perciasepe and Assistant Administrator Giles learn about water pollution monitoring technology.

 

I’ve been talking a lot about the impact and promise of EPA’s Next Generation Compliance strategy. As a vital program to reduce pollution, build transparency and save costs, it has become a driving force to unleash American ingenuity and innovation. This was certainly evident last week, when EPA hosted a “Next Generation Compliance Advanced Monitoring Tech Demo Day” that convened some of the latest advances in pollution monitoring across the country. Walking through the event with Administrator McCarthy and then-Deputy Administrator Perciasepe was so much fun, not to mention inspiring. EPA, academia, industry and non-profit organizations presented so many solutions there, each with a unique approach to solve complex pollution challenges.

Here’s a quick recap of what we saw.

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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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Staying Sustainable at School

By Maddie Dwyer

As fall approaches, there’s one thing on every college kid’s mind: living on campus. Whether you’re excited or not, dorm life is coming, and it’s time to start getting ready. For me, this means using the things I learned at EPA this summer. Below are some tips for green living, which can help you whether you’re living in a dorm or an apartment, or at home.

  1. Saving Energy: It’s easy to save energy by making a few simple changes to your routine. Remember to always turn off the lights when you leave your room. If you’re lucky enough to have air conditioning, and the luxury of controlling it, make sure it’s not left on if no one’s around.
  2. Conserving Water: There are lots of ways to use water efficiently. Take shorter showers and turn off the water when you are using soap, shaving, or brushing your teeth. Also, fixing leaky faucets is an important way to reduce wasted water.
  3. Reducing Waste: College is a great time to get into sustainable habits. Make a commitment to recycle everything you can, even if it means carrying recyclables until you find a recycling bin. Most campuses offer green dining options, like reusable take out boxes, glasses, and silverware. Take advantage of all the green options your school has to offer!
  4. Getting Involved: Every school is different, and will have different environmental issues to address. For example, as part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, my school is working to construct bioswales to filter run-off before it reaches the bay. Check out EPA’s resources for students looking to be greener at school. Whether you are advocating for safer cleaning products or encouraging energy efficient appliances, your school will be better off with your involvement.
  5. Make a Green Agreement with Your Roommate: Helping one another is a great way to make both you and your roommate more sustainable. Ask if it’s okay to unplug each other’s unused electronics, do laundry together, and figure out a schedule to keep the lights and AC off. I’ve been lucky to have lovely roommates and other amazing friends who are committed to green living, and it has helped me to become more sustainable every day.
Maddie and her roommate Grace

Maddie and her roommate Grace

So when moving back to campus, be sure to keep these tips in mind and have a wonderful, sustainable school year!

About the author: Maddie Dwyer studies environmental science and policy at the University of Maryland. She works as an intern for EPA’s 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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Sustainable Materials Management: A Life-cycle Perspective

As companies and decision-makers seek sustainable ways to manage resources and meet consumer needs, they are confronted with an array of choices, labels and practices that claim to be better for the environment. Terms such as “recyclable,” “recycled-content,” “biodegradable,” or “organic,” all suggest a more sustainable use of resources, but all focus on a limited set of environmental impacts. At EPA, we found that asking which of these practices is better for the environment may not be the right question. We’ve found benefit by taking a broader perspective that considers the full “life cycle” of a product.

Governments and businesses can make better-informed choices with “life-cycle thinking,” or considering the environmental impacts caused at all of the stages of a product’s life cycle. These impacts may include releases of pollutants to air or water; raw material depletion; loss of trees, vegetation and wildlife through disturbance of land and water ecosystems; and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The stages of a product’s life cycle include extraction of resources, manufacturing, use, and end-of-life management. Focusing on just one stage (such as waste management) or one effect (such as organically-raised or grown) can be misleading in total environmental impact. A broader look at life-cycle considerations can show unsuspected or surprising effects – such as high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from washing clothes with hot as opposed to cold water (since fossil fuels were likely burned for the energy used to heat the water). More

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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(WASTED) FOOD FIGHT!

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.

 

The Reducing Wasted Food & Packaging: A Guide for Food Services and Restaurants is available online, for anyone to use.

The Reducing Wasted Food & Packaging: A Guide for Food Services and Restaurants is available online, for anyone to use.

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.

 

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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Celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Environmental Achievements

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy presenting Charles Lee with the EJ Pioneer Award at the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) meeting on February 11, 2014

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy presenting Charles Lee with the EJ Pioneer Award at the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) meeting on February 11, 2014

 

As a Chinese-American and one of the individuals who played an instrumental role in our nation’s environmental justice movement, I believe that it is especially fitting that we use this year’s Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month to salute the many environmental contributions of the AAPI community. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Presidential Executive Order on environmental justice. Members of the AAPI community have contributed significantly to safeguarding our environment and promoting health and sustainability for our citizens.

As an advocate for environmental justice, I am excited about the various grassroots initiatives led by AAPI organizers over the last several decades that have aided traditionally underserved neighborhoods and communities of color. For example, AAPI community members in Richmond, California played a pivotal role in securing a multilingual warning system for local residents living in close proximity to a nearby oil refinery. Several years ago, Native Hawaiians organized a successful campaign to prevent polluters from continuing to dump waste in the Wai’nae coastal community. More recently, the Vietnamese-American community in East New Orleans, which is still rebuilding from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon disaster, initiated a sustainable aquaculture system that is contributing to the Gulf Coast’s economic development efforts.
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In Communities across America, Buildings Save Money and Cut Carbon Pollution with Energy Star

Did you know that the energy used in commercial buildings accounts for nearly 20 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions? That adds up to more than $100 billion in energy costs per year! More companies across America are recognizing that energy efficiency is a simple and effective way to save money and reduce greenhouse gas pollution. With help from Energy Star, facility owners and managers are improving the energy efficiency of their buildings and businesses, while at the same time increasing their property value, providing better service, and making their communities more desirable places to live. In fact, since 1999, ENERGY STAR certified buildings have saved more than $3.1 billion on utility bills and prevented greenhouse gas emissions equal to the annual electricity use from 2.2 million homes.

April is Earth Month, a great time to showcase the importance of energy-efficient buildings by announcing EPA’s Top Cities for Energy Star certified buildings and the winners of our annual National Building Competition.

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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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