In 2012, we received some dismal news about food waste. A staggering 40 percent of food is wasted from farm to fork, according to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Suddenly, we were all running to our fridges to make soups from wilted vegetables and freezing ripe bananas for future smoothies while others were stuffing Christmas stockings with copies of Dana Gunders’ book, Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook. Now that a few years have passed, a clearer picture of food waste is emerging.
The SaveOnEnergy team has brought food waste findings to life in a recent study by putting food waste in the context of energy to highlight the lost opportunity. For example, they found that the average person in the U.S. wastes 231 pounds of food annually. If converted to energy, it’s enough to power a 100-watt bulb for two weeks. Waste-to-energy facilities recycle organic waste through anaerobic digestion to produce biogas (a source of energy).
It’s striking to see how much food we collectively waste, but it might be even more shocking to see just how much energy could be produced the from the food each one of us individually wastes.
Although wasted food can be converted to energy, preventing food waste in the first place would save a larger quantity of energy. If the U.S. stopped wasting food, we would save 350 million barrels of oil, according to a study published in the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology journal.
Finding Better Uses for Surplus Food
While it’s tempting to take wasted food and turn it into energy, the food recovery hierarchy by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is extremely helpful in prioritizing the most effective strategies to combat food waste. Source reduction of surplus food is the most effective strategy, followed by donating it to feed hungry people, feeding animals, industrial uses, compost and then landfill/incineration. Ideally, we want to be moving up the food recovery hierarchy and finding better uses for surplus food.
Understanding Where Food Is Wasted
According to the SaveOnEnergy study, households waste the lion’s share of food in the U.S., valued at $144 billion annually. Supermarkets come in a distant second by wasting $18 billion of food, followed by full-service restaurants at $16 billion and farms at $15 billion. Many households stock up on food, much of which is discarded. These findings highlight the importance and potential cost savings of preventing surplus food at home and within businesses.
Curtailing Surplus Food at Home
When exploring food waste by category, dairy products, vegetables and fruit make up more than 50 percent of wasted food. This is logical, given that such foods spoil more quickly than other types of food.
Changing food consumption, shopping, planning, organizing and storing techniques can all foster progress in this area. Planning meals in advance to prevent surplus food, getting more creative about using up ingredients, properly storing food in the best type of storage container, freezing food for later consumption and questioning sell-by dates all help prevent food waste.
It is difficult for households to donate perishable food, which makes more-careful purchasing one of the best ways to avoid surplus food. Although not an ideal solution, composting surplus food or feeding it to an animal is a step up from sending it to a landfill or incinerator. Some cities are offering compost bin rebate programs to combat food waste, which also helps by effectively recycling nutrients and reducing the transportation of food waste to landfills.
Want to find out what more you can do to waste less? Click through the slideshow below: