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A Word on Waste: Part I

This article is part of a four-part series on buying, storing, preserving and composting foods to prevent waste.

Throwing out spoiled food is already a bummer, but many of us are unaware of the major impact food waste has on our environment and economy both locally and globally. Did you know that 40% of food produced in the US ends up as waste? There is a certain amount of spoilage that occurs at every stage of the food supply chain between production and plate, but in this country the biggest piece of that pie comes from consumers. Not only does the energy that went into producing, packaging and shipping that food go to waste, but when food ends up in a landfill it breaks down anaerobically and releases greenhouse gases. According to the UN, food loss and waste accounts for 8% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s a lot considering the competition, aviation only contributes 1.4%.  The global cost of all this wasted food is a staggering $940 billion, around $161 billion in the US alone. That breaks down to around $2,000 a year per family. 

So now that you know, what can you do? In developed countries the majority of food waste occurs at the household level which means we can make changes that can make a real difference. From buying and storing, preserving, sharing and how we throw things away, there are many areas to intervene on food waste at an individual level. 

Buying:

It’s easy to let your imagination wild when you are shopping for groceries and thinking about all the delicious things you might want to make and eat. Part of that is marketing, stores are designed to maximize the amount you buy. It is in their best short-term financial interest if you fill your cart, but not yours or the planet’s, so come prepared.

Have a snack. If you do your grocery shopping on the way home from work, this may mean packing an extra snack with your lunch or keeping some bars in the glove box. It is a whole lot easier to stick to a list when your blood sugars are stable. 

Make a list. Think about what else you will need to use the things you already have. Consider what quantity of each item you will need in advance, buying extra to take advantage of a sale is no benefit if you end up throwing out the excess. 

Buy local. The less distance something has to travel, the less energy it uses. Not only in the carbon cost of shipping, but also storing and packaging. When thinking about how to reduce the carbon footprint of our food choices, where it comes from matters. 

Mieko Diener is a dietetic intern with a master’s degree in nutritional science from the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

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