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Environment | Communities

The Problem Of Food Waste And What To Do About It At Home

In developed countries the bulk of food waste comes from people buying more food than they consume.

In developed countries the bulk of food waste comes from people buying more food than they consume.

Robert Terrell


Every time I look in the produce drawer of my refrigerator, I feel guilty.

Lurking in there right now is a wrinkled nectarine, two tomatoes that have sprouted gray fuzz, a handful of once-purple-now-black basil and a cucumber that will surely turn to mush if disturbed.

I paid about $6 for those fruits and veggies when they were fresh and now they’ve become a pile of yuck I will eventually toss.

Unfortunately, my refrigerator situation is pretty normal. The average American family of four throws out more than 25 percent of the food they buy. That’s about $30 per week, which adds up to more than $1,600 per year.

But wasted money isn’t the only byproduct. If we could pile up all the wasted food in the world, it would represent more greenhouse gas emissions than what’s produced by any individual country with the exception of the United States and China, according to the United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization.

The recent U.N. Food Wastage Footprint report says that more than 1.3 billion tonnes of edible food are thrown out every year.

According to the report, that wasted food equates to:

  • About 3.3 billion tonnes in carbon dioxide emissions.

  • About 1.4 billion hectares of land-use, or 28 percent of the world’s agricultural area.

  • And a volume of water as large as what flows in Europe’s largest river.

In the developed world, most of the food waste comes from people like me who buy more food than they consume. In fact, high-income countries, with the exception of those in Latin America, are responsible for 67 percent of global meat waste.

At least, to assuage my guilt, I live in Seattle where I can compost my food waste. But even with curbside composting, food and compostable paper make up 25.5 percent of single family garbage that ends up in the King County landfill. To help combat this problem, King County is partnering with PCC Natural Markets to launch a public education campaign. They’ve created a series of videos to give families practical ideas on how to waste less food at home and save more money.

Here are some more of their tips:

  • Make a list of weekly meals (and be realistic about how many meals you’ll eat at home).

  • Jot down the ingredients to go in those meals, including the quantities.

  • Buy loose rather than prepackaged fresh produce so you can buy just the amount you need.

  • Store fresh fruits and veggies in bags or containers that can keep them fresh longer.

  • Separate the very ripe fruit from the almost ripe fruit, so you can eat them in that order.

  • Freeze foods like bread, fruit and meat if you know you won’t be able to eat it before it goes bad.

  • Move food that’s likely to spoil soon to the front of the shelf or a designated “eat now” area each week.

The “Eat Now Shelf” is being implemented in my house today.

— Katie Campbell

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