food insecurity

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 herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Will Aquaponic Gardening Help Solve Food Insecurity in the Future?

Emily Nusz-thumbnailBy Emily Nusz

EPA brings in students every summer to work, learn practical environmental skills, and enhance their educational experience through our Pathways Intern Program. The Big Blue Thread has been proud to feature several blogs written by these interns, focusing on what motivates them to work in the environmental sector and what attracted them to EPA. We’ve posted blogs by Andrew Speckin, Sara Lamprise and Kelly Overstreet. Our final blog in this series is the second one by Emily Nusz, who continues to intern with our Environmental Data and Assessment staff.

Water is an essential component of life. Without it, we cannot survive. In my previous blog, I discussed my experience building a well for clean drinking water in Africa. Many developing countries are challenged by the lack of access to clean water. In some cases, people have to walk miles each day just to reach a source, which is why my church’s mission team and I wanted to provide a water well to a village in Nairobi, Kenya.

Water is not the only essential component of life to which some communities across the globe lack access. Finding abundant food sources also may be a problem. I have thought over and over again about how we can solve food insecurity, while also being eco-friendly. During my undergraduate career, I researched and built a system that may have the potential for doing just that. In fact, my former agriculture professor travels to Haiti about once a month to teach this simple gardening technique, which can be used to provide communities with a self-sustaining food supply. This system is unique because it can work anywhere, anytime, through any season.

It’s called aquaponics, a budding technique that allows you to grow your own local, healthy food right in your backyard while using 90 percent less water  than traditional gardening. If you are wondering what aquaponics is, you are not alone. The term “aquaponics” is not part of everyday conversation, but soon it may be. I was not introduced to the idea until about a year ago when I began to build a system of my own for academic research.

How It Works

Aquaponics

Aquaponic gardening integrates fish and plant growth in a mutual recirculating cycle by combining hydroponics and aquaculture. It is an environmentally friendly way to produce food without harsh chemical fertilizers through a symbiotic relationship. To give you an idea, the fish are able to produce waste that eventually turns into nitrates, which provides essential nutrients for plant growth in a hydroponic environment without any soil. The plants, which are planted in gravel beds, take in the nutrients provided by the fish and help purify the water for the care of the fish. The purified water then flows back to the fish for reuse. Many cultures are able to use this system to not only grow crops, but have a food source of fish as well.

Many types of plants can be grown in the system, such as lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Tilapia are the most commonly used fish because they provide extra benefits other fish cannot, such as high levels of ammonia, which is important for maintaining effective system levels.

My Experiment

When I began to build an indoor aquaponic system, my goal was to research if plants and fish could sustain life in an environment lacking nutrients provided by sunlight. The system contained three separate tanks.

Tank 1 was set up as the “breeder tank.” This tank circulated the Aquaponic Research Setup - Emily Nusznutrients from the fish into the tank containing the plants. Many aquaponic systems do not include a breeder tank, but for my research it was included.

Tank 2 was set up as the “fish tank.” This tank contained all of the fish (about 50 tilapia). Tank 3 was set up as the “plant tank.” All of the plants were planted in the gravel of this tank to absorb the nutrients provided by the fish. The purified water then flowed from this tank back into tank 2 for reuse.

The water quality of the continuous cycle was observed and recorded over a 10-week period to determine the production of plant growth and water quality in an indoor aquaponic system. Measurements of water quality were collected, including pH, electroconductivity, total dissolved solids, potassium levels, nitrate levels, dissolved oxygen, and temperature.

Although my research did not support sufficient growth of plants in an indoor aquaponic system, it has been found to work indoors using ultraviolet light as a source. Year-round results can also occur by having the system set up in a greenhouse. As long as the system is set up in a controlled environment that mimics nature, fish and plant production will flourish.

The Future

The awareness and potential for aquaponics is beginning to soar. Aquaponics may not be part of everyday conversation yet, but it could make a tremendous change in how we grow our food in the future.

In fact, today EPA tries to incorporate this type of gardening technique to redevelop contaminated Brownfield sites. They work with communities on many of the redevelopment projects to set up urban agriculture practices for food production. There are many benefits to constructing Brownfield sites into agricultural growth areas, especially using the aquaponic system. Urban agriculture has two major benefits for contaminated sites: it binds the contaminants, and it contributes to the growth of local food.

Emily Nusz-thumbnailAbout the Author: Emily Nusz is a Student Intern at EPA Region 7, who worked full-time this summer and continues to work part-time during the school year. She is a graduate student at the University of Kansas, studying environmental assessment. Emily is SCUBA certified, and one of her life goals is to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reefs off the coast of Australia.

Sources:

Emily’s First Blog Entry: https://blog.epa.gov/blog/2015/10/providing-clean-water-to-an-african-village-not-a-simple-turn-of-the-tap/

Brownfields: http://www.epa.gov/brownfields

Land Revitalization/Urban Agriculture Fact Sheet: http://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-08/documents/fs_urban_agriculture.pdf

USDA Aquaponics Information: https://afsic.nal.usda.gov/aquaculture-and-soilless-farming/aquaponics

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.