Food Waste Is a Massive Problem. Here's How to Fix It.
Food Waste Is a Massive Problem. Here's How to Fix It.
By Naomi Starkman / civileats.com

A new film highlights the food waste problem. Here are some things we can do to fix it. 

As we face a serious drought, many cities in California and elsewhere are working hard to waste less water. But we as a nation have yet to fully comprehend the equally important impact of wasting food.

Nearly one-third of the fruit, vegetables, grains, meat, and packaged foods produced across the globe gets tossed out every year. In the U.S., that figure can climb as high as 40 percent, to the tune of $165 billion in losses each year. Americans throw away an average of 20 pounds of food each month—costing them each between $28 and $43.

As Dana Gunders, staff scientist and “food waste warrior” at the Natural Resources Defense Council says in the new film “Just Eat It,” which airs tonight on MSNBC, that’s like leaving the grocery store with four full bags of groceries and dropping one in the parking lot. But it’s not just our pocketbooks that feel the strain—our landfills, waterways, and atmosphere all suffer when we produce more than we consume and waste it in the process.

Much of the wasted food ends up rotting in landfills, releasing methane—a potent greenhouse gas—into the atmosphere. Nearly 25 percent of all freshwater consumed annually in the U.S. is associated with food waste. That’s a little more than the volume of Lake Erie. And where there’s wasted food, there’s also wasted energy; approximately 2.5 percent of the U.S. energy budget is “thrown away” annually as food waste. “We’re creating climate change from our kitchen waste bins,” says Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food, in the film.

On the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, tackling the issue of food waste couldn’t be more critical. Small actions actually can make a big difference. As consumers, we can help curb the growing problem by understanding more about expiration dates, buying less, purchasing “ugly” fruits and veggies, and snatching up that last bunch of lettuce.

And there are also real opportunities for cities and businesses to keep mountains of food waste out of landfills. Now more than ever there is a spotlight on the issue via social media campaignsonline mapsfood trucksdumpster diningbusinesses being built around waste, as well as chef Dan Barber’s recent pop up dinner series, wastED. There’s even an app to help us “eat down the fridge.”

 

In “Just Eat It,” filmmakers and food lovers Jenny Rustemeyer and Grant Baldwin set out to survive for six months on discarded food (and what friends and family offer). They end up spending just $200, while rescuing food worth $20,000. Together, they dive into the issue of waste from farm to grocery store, all the way to the back of their own fridge. In one memorable scene, Baldwin stands over a giant dumpster full of hundreds of perfectly good hummus in tiny plastic containers. The visual effect (and the reality) is stunning.

Food waste is a sizable, but solvable problem, and all hands on deck are needed. On a federal level, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have been working to raise awareness and work towards change. The United Nations also has a plan in place to tackle food waste over the next decade and a half, and the U.S. is poised to set its own reduction targets as part of that plan, which could set the stage for much needed programs, attention, and funding to the issue.

While the industrial agriculture industry claims we need to scale up production to feed a growing population, the incredible level of wasted food suggests that having better policies in place could go a long way. As the U.N. noted in its report on world hunger, we grow enough food to feed the entire world population of 7 billion people—a lot of it just isn’t getting to them.

One of the first thing policymakers can do is take on the confusion caused by “sell by,” “use by,” or “best by” food labels. According to a report called The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America, most people don’t know that these dates are currently neither regulated nor standardized. Other than for infant formula, there are no federal or state laws regulating the length of time between when a food can be produced and/or packaged and the date on the package. And while these dates are not necessarily linked to food safety, they can have a major impact because many consumers throw away food they perceive as having “expired.”

The European Union is aggressively moving to reduce food waste by addressing these “best before” labels. As Bloom has noted, the shift could also prompt action on date labels here in the U.S. If that happens, American lawmakers could help trim million of tons annually from our collective household food waste.

There are other policies taking place nationwide, with several cities and states taking matters into their own hands. San Francisco passed the first city ordinance in 2009 that makes composting food waste mandatory. It’s now illegal to throw food and food waste in the trash in Seattle. In Massachusetts, businesses or institutions which throw out more than a ton of food a month are prohibited from sending it to a landfill. Vermont, Connecticut, Portland, and New York City are all reducing or working on sending less food waste to their landfills. As Gunders told me, while this on its own doesn’t ensure that people will eat all the food they buy, it does help make the huge volume of food going to waste more visible, which in turn can lead us to use it better.

Towards the end of “Just Eat It,” activist and author Tristam Stuart of Feeding the 5000 says poignantly that wasting food “is one of the most gratuitous acts of humans culture as it stands today. We’re trashing our land to grow food that no one eats.”

In a country so blessed by agricultural abundance, it’s a shame to allow for such an embarrassment of wasted riches. There are many social environmental problems which are monumental, but, as Gunders puts it, “Food waste we can handle. We can do something about it now.”

4.5 ·
3
What's Next
Trending Today
Welcome to Marinaleda: The Spanish Anti-Capitalist Town With Equal Wage Full Employment and $19 Housing
Jade Small · 9,471 views today · With virtually no police, crime or unemployment, meet the Spanish town described as a democratic, socialist utopia. Unemployment is non-existent in Marinaleda, an Andalusian...
Who Are You? Watching This Breathtaking Video Could Be the Moment You Change Your Life
2 min · 8,268 views today · "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can...
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 7,780 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
11 Traits of People With High Emotional Intelligence
Raven Fon · 7,369 views today · Lately, new ways to describe human interactions, social behaviours, and many facets of psychology have emerged on the social network scene. One of those descriptions is “high...
How a Trump Presidency Would Unleash a Torrent of Racist Violence-And Devastate the Left
Arun Gupta · 7,126 views today · The Left should take the Trump threat very seriously.
10 Provocative Quotes from Ivan Illich's "Deschooling Society"
Daniel Lattier · 5,151 views today · Ivan Illich’s groundbreaking book Deschooling Society (1971) offers a radical critique of the institutionalization of education within modern societies. Illich believed that we...
Maya Angelou's 3-Word Secret to Living Your Best Life
3 min · 4,822 views today · Dr. Maya Angelou says that in order to be the best human being you can be, you must follow one simple directive: "Just do right." Watch as Dr. Angelou reveals how you can never...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 4,810 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Forest Man
16 min · 4,430 views today · Since the 1970's Majuli islander Jadav Payeng has been planting trees in order to save his island. To date he has single handedly planted a forest larger than Central Park NYC...
Doctors Response to Daily Mail Bigotry is Beautiful
Neil Tiwari · 4,134 views today · A poetic open letter to the Daily Mail newspaper from Dr. Neil Tiwari, in response to a bigoted attack on his colleagues, is going viral and it's beautiful.
Superblocks: How Barcelona Is Taking City Streets Back From Cars
5 min · 3,786 views today · Modern cities are designed for cars. But the city of Barcelona is testing out an urban design trick that can give cities back to pedestrians.
Real Change in Democracy Comes Not in the Voting Booth but Activism at the Grass-Roots
Ilze Peterson · 3,637 views today · Many years ago, the late Judy Guay, a low-income woman from Bangor, founded the Maine Association of Interdependent Neighborhoods in order to advocate for the neediest in our...
Fighting Trump - Residents Opposing Donald Trump's Scottish Golf Resort
14 min · 3,548 views today · Documentary on the residents protesting against Donald Trump's golf development on the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Directed and Presented by James Trosh.
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 3,235 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
How to Criticize with Kindness: Philosopher Daniel Dennett on the Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently
Maria Popova · 2,896 views today · “Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”
Alan Watts: What If Money Was No Object?
3 min · 2,646 views today · How do you like to spend your life? What do you desire? What if money didn't matter? What if money was no object? What would you like to do if money were no object? Spoken...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 2,132 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
10 Shocking Facts About Society That We Absurdly Accept As Normal
Joe Martino · 1,875 views today · When you take a moment and look around at the world, things can appear pretty messed up. Take 5 or 10 minutes and watch the 6 o’clock news. Chances are, the entire time, all...
Throw (2016)
10 min · 1,569 views today · The first installment of Invisible Thread, an ongoing ELM passion project series, Throw tells the story of an outsider from East Baltimore, an area challenged by gang violence...
A City Open to Migration and Diversity?
2 min · 1,551 views today · We speak to Thomas Jézéquel of Eurocities about what the city of Gdańsk can teach us.
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Food Waste Is a Massive Problem. Here's How to Fix It.