Use everything, waste nothing

What do you think of when you think of food waste? The food leftover on your kid’s plate? But what about the food that never makes it from the farm to a store? And the food that goes to waste in grocery stores, cafeterias, and restaurants? What about all the prepared foods or foods past their expiration date – where does that go?

In the spring of 2018, Sustainable Saratoga and Skidmore’s Sustainability Office hosted a movie screening and panel discussion of Wasted! The Story of Food Waste. This film highlighted the complex issue of food waste, and that food is wasted all along the food supply chain, from the farm field to our kitchen tables.

This movie was a real eye-opener for many viewers. We tend to think very narrowly about food waste, when the issue is actually much larger. The movie presents food waste using a food waste pyramid, similar to the food pyramid many of us learned about in school, but with the familiar concept of reduce, reuse, recycle.

Does it surprise you to know that 40% of the food produced for human consumption in the US goes to waste? That over 90% of that waste ends up in the landfill? That organic waste decomposing in a landfill produces methane gas – a greenhouse gas with 25 times the global warming potential of CO2?

Even the economics are staggering. The cost of food waste is $1 trillion annually. It is depressing that we still struggle globally with food insecurity while there is so much food waste.

After the movie, four panelists who are working hard to reduce food waste provided their thoughts and insights. The panelists were Heather Coton, Environmental Manager, Delaware North at The Gideon Putnam; Adam Bigelow Sous Chef at 9 Miles East Farm; Jim Rose, Executive Chef, Skidmore College; and Nurcan Atalan Helicke, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Sciences Program, Skidmore College. Read more about what these panelists think about food waste.

Common sources of food waste:

  • Households
  • Restaurants and Cafeterias
  • Grocery stores
  • Hospitality and Entertainment (hotels, sports venues)
  • Food processing industry
  • Agricultural sources

 Benefits of reducing food waste

  • Save money by paying less for trash pickup or receive a tax benefit from donating edible food to hungry people (The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act protects food donors from legal liability)
  • Support your community by feeding people who are food-insecure in our local communities
  • Create jobs – food recycling efforts create local jobs
  • Reduce methane gas emissions from landfills by keeping food out of landfills
  • Save resources – producing excess food wastes water, energy, fuel, land, fertilizer and pesticides

 What can you do to reduce food waste?

  • Meal plan – planning meals for the week cuts down on wasted food because you are only buying what you have a plan to consume during the week.
  • Don’t be fooled by labels – expiration and best-by dates are deceiving. Even some bottled water has a best-by date. Consumer Reports and FoodSafety.gov provide two good resources.
  • Spend more time in the kitchen – slow down and spend more time preparing food. You can reduce food waste with more careful preparation and use veggie scraps to make a vegetable broth.
  • Compost – save your food scraps and compost rather than throwing it in the trash. According to the EPA, in 2014, “more than 38 million tons of food waste was generated, with only 5.1 percent diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting.” The EPA estimates that food comprises 21.6% of discarded municipal solid waste; more food goes to landfills and incinerators than any other single material in our household trash. 
  • Be an advocate for food waste reduction when you eat and shop locally – ask your local restaurant or grocery store what they do with excess food; encourage them to compost kitchen scraps and donate uneaten food to local pantries; encourage them to find farming partners so scraps can feed livestock.
  • Support food companies and restaurants that are finding innovative ways to reuse food and reduce food waste.
  • Be an advocate for food waste reduction with your local government – push for community compositing options; support efforts to turn food waste into energy.

For more information:

The Environmental Protection Agency has developed a webpage full of information resources to help reduce food waste: https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food.