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The Climate Change Problem That Might Not Be on Your Radar: Food Waste & How YOU Can Combat It

Updated: Mar 27

Here's a statistic that might surprise you: According to ReFed, a whopping 35 percent of all food in the United States went unsold or uneaten. 

“That’s $408 billion worth of food with a greenhouse gas footprint equivalent to 4 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions,” according to ReFed. “Most of this became food waste, which went straight to landfill, incineration, or down the drain, or was simply left in the fields to rot.”

All the while millions of Americans – an estimated one in eight – are facing food insecurity. There is obviously a disconnect here. How can we ensure everyone has enough to eat and prevent food from ending up in landfills where it impacts our climate?  

Potent greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane are created when that food waste begins decaying in your local landfill. How much? Experts say about one-sixth of our methane emissions stem from this wasted food. To put it another way, Stanford University estimates that nationally, the greenhouse gases emitted by landfills equates to emissions generated by 23 million cars.

The good news is that over the past few years, food waste warriors have emerged locally, helping the Pittsburgh area more efficiently tackle the problem.

One of them is 412 Food Rescue, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing good food from entering the waste stream by redirecting it to folks who are experiencing food insecurity. Over the five years it’s been in operation, the organization has rescued nearly 16 million pounds of food – with almost half of those happening in 2020. All those rescues helped mitigate more than 8.6 million pounds of carbon dioxide.

Another is 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 more than 6,000 pounds of food waste.

There’s also Pasa Sustainable Agriculture, an organization formed in 1992 to help connect farmers, businesses, and consumers to local, healthy food – from farm to fork.

Then there’s Worm Return, a service that “turns kitchen scraps into garden gold.” The Allentown-based company contracts with local businesses and households to keep food scraps out of landfills by providing composting services.

For the uninitiated: Composting is 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. Compost needs three basic components:

  1. Brown material – This includes dead leaves, branches, and twigs.

  2. Green material – This includes coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable scraps, and grass clippings.

  3. Water

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.

What specifically can YOU do to help stave off food waste and the climate change-causing greenhouse gases it produces? Join GASP from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. April 28 for our Making the Connection: Food Waste and Our Environment program. The free online event will feature those food waste warriors we mentioned earlier – 412 Food Rescue, Ecotone Renewables, Pasa Sustainable Agriculture, and Worm Return Pittsburgh.

Learn more about what they do and how you can make a difference right there at home.

Editor's Note: The registration period for the event is closed.

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