Updated: Sep 9, 2022
A 113-page Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report published in November dissected one of America’s most egregious contributions to greenhouse gas-causing Climate Change: Food waste.
Potent greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane are created when that food waste begins decaying in your local landfill. Experts estimate that about one-sixth of our methane emissions are caused by wasted food. Stanford University notes that nationally, the greenhouse gases emitted by landfills equate to emissions generated by 23 million cars.
Surprised? Then buckle up, because there are more damning statistics ahead.
The most outrageous may be this one: More than one-third of the food produced in the United States is never eaten; wasting the resources used to produce it, transporting it, and creating myriad environmental impacts.
Food waste is the single-most common material dumped in landfills and incinerated nationally, contributing as much as 25 percent of municipal solid waste that’s disposed of in landfills and combusted.
The magnitude of the environmental impact of food waste is laid out nicely in this image from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
One of the fixes? Reducing and preventing food waste. So, this Earth Week, we wanted to explore what specifically YOU and your family can do to help stave off food waste and the climate change-causing greenhouse gases it produces.
Volunteer to Be a Food Rescue Hero
One thing you can do locally to make a HUGE difference when it comes to food waste and food insecurity is to become a Food Rescuer with 412 Food Rescue. For those who might be unfamiliar with 412 Food Rescue: The nonprofit is dedicated to preventing good food from entering the waste stream by redirecting it to local people experiencing food insecurity.
They partner with food retailers, volunteers, and nonprofit organizations to connect surplus food with individuals and families who are experiencing food insecurity.
“With the help of 2 trucks, 1 van, and thousands of volunteers who we call Food Rescue Heroes, we are able to rescue perfectly good but unsellable food that would otherwise be wasted and redirect it to people who need it,” 412 Food Rescue’s website explains.
It’s made a HUGE impact locally: Its efforts redirected more than 20 million pounds of food in the region, which equates to 18 million meals. That rescued food mitigating 11 million pounds of CO2 emissions in the process.
Learn more about becoming a Food Rescue Hero on 412 Food Rescue’s website.
Get Into the Composting Game
You can cut down on the amount of your household food waste by composting. Defined as “the act of collecting and storing organic material like plants and food scraps so they can decay and be added to soil to improve its quality,” your compost pile needs three basic components:
Brown material – This includes dead leaves, branches, and twigs.
Green material – This includes coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable scraps, and grass clippings.
Keeping that organic material out of landfills has a significant climate change impact, but that’s not all: Composting cuts down on the need for chemical fertilizers and can help remediate contaminated soil.
For those who’d like more information on composting, the Pennsylvania Resources Council (PRC) is currently offering a workshop that covers the importance and benefits of composting, the process, setting up a compost pile, proper maintenance, and ways of using finished compost.
Participants will receive a free garden EARTH compost bin with attendance. This bin is an ideal for urban and suburban areas and has an 82-gallon capacity. The cost is $70 a person or $75 couple.
You can view a list of the upcoming webinars and in-person workshops of the PRC website.
The EPA has a great FAQ on composting on its website, too.
P.S. There is also a local service that helps “turns kitchen scraps into garden gold.” That’s Worm Return, a service that The Allentown-based company contracts with local businesses and households to keep food scraps out of landfills by providing composting services.
And if you live in the 15128 zip code, you could also check out Ecotone Renewables, a company whose mission is “closing the food loop” by transforming otherwise wasted food and turning it into renewable energy and nutrient-rich fertilizer. Since its inception, the Swissvale-based business has repurposed thousands of pounds of food waste.
More Quick Tips for Preventing Food Waste at Home
There are many other ways to stave off food waste at home. Here are some tips from the National Resource Defense Council (NDRC):
Plan ahead. Before you head out to the store be sure to create a meal plan and make a grocery list to prevent impulse purchases that will just go to waste.
Don’t forget those leftovers. Find ways to utilize all the food you purchase. Repurpose leftovers into new meals and cook or freeze food to ensure you can eat it later instead of tossing it in the garbage.
Consider how you store it. Proper storage of food can increase its lifetime and reduce spoilage. The DCNR’s interactive Save the Food storage guide offers tips, tricks, and info to keep your food fresh and tasty.
Understand those food labels. The NDRC was clear: Food expiration dates have little to do with food safety. You might be surprised to know that they are not federally regulated and aren’t even relevant numbers for consumers. The various sell-by, use-by, and best-before labels are generally just indicators of when food will be at its peak quality. Experts advise folks to rely on their senses of smell and taste to determine if food is spoiled.
Check those temps. Check the temperature setting of your fridge. Keep the temperature at 40° F or below to keep foods safe. The temperature of your freezer should be 0° F.
Make space. Create a designated space in your fridge for foods that you think will be going bad within a few days.
Get virtual help. Download an app like Kitche or Nosh that are designed to help reduce food waste in your home by keeping track of what food is in your pantry and providing recipes to best utilize them.
Have other tips or resources? Leave us a comment below.