How Food Waste Hurts Your Wallet and the Environment
By Sarah Betts
Last night I made a kale stew. This morning I had a bowl of granola with sliced apple and banana. In the meantime, I tossed the following items into my compost bin: kale stalks, an old block of cheese that I found in the back of the fridge, about a cup of yogurt that I discovered was smelling rather ripe, the stale end of a loaf of bread I sliced up for the soup, a banana peel, an apple core, leftovers from this weekend that didn’t quite make it for lunch today and some milk I steamed for coffee but didn’t use all of before running out of the house.
If I hadn’t forced myself to record all of what I tossed in the past 24 hours, I would probably have gone through my day without this pang of guilt in my gut. But, now I am sitting here about to tell you about the significant environmental and economic impact of food waste and I am feeling like a grand offender.
The point is – we all do it. As you can see in the figure above, over 30% of the vegetables and fruits produced in 2009 went to waste. While these numbers are high, it’s equally frightening to see no item with less than 10% waste across the board. So, what’s important is not to kick yourself every time you toss something out, but to see your contribution as part of this larger impact and take action to make a difference in both your personal waste production and the larger waste production picture.
Making stock from your vegetable scraps, planning a clean-out-the-fridge meal once a week to make sure you use more of what you’ve purchased, freezing items that keep well, planning meals before shopping, and buying and cooking smaller portions are all good ways to decrease the food waste produced in your home.
If you do have to toss something out, the compost is by far your best option but it shouldn’t be an easy out. While it will eventually be recycled into usable soil, commercial compost like we have in Seattle still consumes oil for transportation and electricity for processing. Not to mention composting, commercially or on your own, is not going to get you’re your grocery money back.
Avoidable food waste, not eggshells or banana peels that are disposed of anyway, has a huge impact not only on your wallet, but on the environment as well. According to a study by the Clean Metrics Corp. in 2011, “the avoidable food waste in the US amounts to over 55 million metric tons per year, representing nearly 29% of annual production. This results in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 113 million metric tons of CO2e annually, equivalent to 2% of US national emissions.”
The cost of this waste is not cheap either. The same study estimates that the annual cost of food waste to US businesses and consumers is $198 billion. A family of four spends about $1,600 per year on wasted food.
If you step back and think about the block of moldy cheese you’re throwing out, it probably cost you between $5 and $15, had a plastic package that cost money and resources to produce, was shipped to the grocery store on a truck fueled by several gallons of gasoline, required quite a bit of human and electrical energy to be produced and required water, grass and land consumption for the cow/sheep/goat to produce the milk for it in the first place.
Making conscious decisions while shopping and choosing your meals can make a significant difference. As you can see in figure 4, for beef the majority of the waste comes in production, so smart sourcing and eating less beef is a smart decision. Likewise, for vegetables the most waste comes from disposal so buying smarter portions and making sure you use what you buy is a good way to decrease the majority of waste for these foods.
It is both awful and inspiring for farmers and distributors like Full Circle to see numbers like the ones pictured above. While we work hard to bring good food to you, we realize that fruits and vegetables are both higher in expense and at a higher risk of going to waste, which motivates us to continue improving the food supply system and educating people on how to best store and use their produce.
Full Circle, as a farm, food supplier and grocery delivery program, works hard to decrease the amount of food waste produced in the production, packaging, distribution and disposal of food . Not only do we want to help you make better use of your food so it doesn’t go to waste, we want to be transparent about our program and how we are working to decrease waste within the food production and distribution system.
This article will be part of a longer series exploring ways we are coming up with to decrease waste and sharing ideas you can benefit from in your own home.
Images and references for this article can be found in the cleanmetrics.com study – download the full study here.