Sustainable food management: a win for water

by Luke Wolfgang

The recent announcement of a national food waste reduction goal to cut food waste in half by 2030 has great promise for not only getting more of the bounty of our food supply to those in need, but also reducing methane generated in landfills. But did you know that reducing food waste – in 2013, estimated at 35 million tons in the US – also helps reduce water consumption and promote healthy waters?

EPA helps universities, grocery stores, sports stadiums, hospitals, and prisons divert food waste from landfills through the Food Recovery Challenge (FRC). The FRC focuses on a food recovery hierarchy, ranging from less preferred options, like landfilling, to more sustainable approaches like feeding the hungry.  Here are a few examples of how different parts of the food recovery hierarchy also protect water resources.Sustainable food

Here in the mid-Atlantic, participants in the FRC generated 67,000 tons of compost in 2014.  According to USDA, every 1% of organic material added to the soil increases soil water holding capacity by 27,000 gallons of water per acre.  The benefits of adding compost to local growing fields and landscaping not only saves water resources needed to grow food, but also reduces the amount of runoff of sediment and nutrients from entering local waters.  Compost can even play a role in bioremediation by helping to degrade and bind contaminants in the soil.  In this way, the compost not just saves water, but it can also improve the health of waters in the mid-Atlantic.

Food donation is another important part of the food recovery hierarchy. In 2014, mid-Atlantic FRC participants donated over 9,600 tons of food to feed those in need!  It took a lot of water to grow that food – when food is wasted, all of that water is wasted, too. In fact, if that 9,600 tons of food had been wasted instead of donated, and assuming it was all one food (let’s say, lettuce), it would be equivalent to wasting enough water to fill the Philadelphia Eagles’ stadium to the upper deck!

In one last look at the food recovery hierarchy,  FRC participants in the mid-Atlantic reported that they had reduced 9 tons of food at the initial source through better purchasing, storing, and handling practices. Even simple changes like these can have a big impact.

You, too, can help reduce food waste and preserve water resources at the same time. Take some time to learn about sustainable food management, start composting, or help organize food donation in your community.

About the author: Luke joined EPA in 2003, and is currently the regional contact for EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge and WasteWise programs in the Land and Chemicals Division.  In his free time, Luke is an avid fly fisherman who enjoys tying his own flies to fool elusive species like Carp and Muskellunge.

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