Welcome to Changing Tides Foundation’s Where Does It Go? Series where we take a look at a big issue, and try to break the impact down, while identifying a few great examples of businesses that work to address these issues.
Did you know that each year in the US alone, consumers, businesses and farms spend $218 billion growing, processing, transporting, and disposing of food that is never eaten? This means that between 30-40% of the food supply in the US becomes food waste each year. Meanwhile in America, 1 in 6 Americans is food insecure, meaning they don’t have enough food to live an active, healthy life.
According to ReFED, a leading nonprofit committed to this issue, Food Waste consumes 21% of all freshwater used in growing produce, 19% of all fertilizers, uses up 18% of cropland, and fills up 21% of our landfill volume once it’s thrown out.
Food Waste is also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to 8% of total global emissions and at least 2.6% of all US emissions. If food loss and waste were its own country, it would be the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind China and the US. Expert climate scientists from The Drawdown have ranked reducing food waste as the third most impactful action we can make as humans to mitigate climate change.
So what’s happening to all of the food? Where Does It Go?
Let’s start with the farms. In the US, it is estimated that 18% of food waste comes from farms and manufacturers and more than 33% of edible produce remains un-harvested in the fields. Although most of this produce goes right back into the soil to provide nutrients, it is not justified considering the time and resources it takes to grow food and considering the amount of food insecure people there are in the world.
There is no question that feeding people is the absolute best way to combat food waste, which is why we need more grassroots food movements like The Ecology Center. The Ecology Center is a non-profit farm and educational center in Southern California that grows organic fruits and vegetables. The entire harvest is made available for purchase to the community through their CSA program and Farmstand. Any imperfect or super ripe produce gets donated to a partner organization who works to feed families in need in underserved communities, ensuring that no food on the farm is wasted and people in need are being fed. That’s a great, local solution as an alternative to big agriculture.
So where does the rest of the food waste come from? Let’s take a look at the supply chain.
Grocery stores account for 10% of the overall food waste in the US, where up to 50% of that produce is thrown out while still edible. That is where organizations like Feeding America and Copia come in, which connect grocery stores and businesses with nonprofits that are feeding the hungry, to help get good food to those that need it.
It is estimated that in the US restaurants account for about 18% of wasted food. Most of this is due to large portion sizes and over-preparation of food which is why we need creative solutions like Soul Much.
Soul Much is a mission-driven cookie company that upcycles untouched foods from restaurants and turns them into delicious cookies. Each week, they pick up leftover rice, quinoa and juice pulps that were slated for the landfill, that they then dehydrate, grind, and mix in to bake their cookies. This is truly a brilliant and scalable solution.
Ok so what about the rest of it? Unfortunately a huge chunk of food waste in the US, 43% to be exact, comes from our homes. We as individuals have to get these numbers down! And this is where our individual behaviors really make a huge difference.
We know that feeding people in need is the ultimate goal, followed by feeding animals, while the last line of defense in keeping food waste out of the landfill is composting.
Which is why the Changing Tides Foundation launched the Community Compost Movement, a weekly food-scrap pickup service on the North Shore of Oahu, whose goal it is to divert residential food waste from the landfill and produce nutrient-rich, regenerative soil in order to grow more food.
So what can we do, as individuals, to keep food waste out of the landfill?