Photograph by Food Donation Connection/USDA
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Local restaurants and supermarkets donate surplus food to make healthy meals for homeless shelters.
Photograph by Food Donation Connection/USDA
The Plate

How You Can Stop Food Waste

By Samantha Cohen and Eric Estroff, The George Washington University

Think back to everything you ate yesterday.

How much food did you actually eat and how much of your meal ended up in the garbage? For me, I fully consumed all of the food I ate yesterday, but I went through my refrigerator and threw out old food takeout containers, spoiled mashed potatoes, and rotten bananas.

Food waste is not a new problem, and our habits are only getting worse. One-third of the food that is produced for human consumption is lost or wasted from farm to kitchen. What’s even worse is that food insecurity is a huge problem in this country and we are wasting enough food to be able to feed those people for an entire year. In 2012, we wasted 35 million tons of food, which is enough to feed 70 percent of the hungry people in the United States for an entire year. This is frightening. We have the power to feed the hungry with all of the food we waste and yet we just throw it into the garbage.

Ethically, food waste is bad. Food waste is also harmful for the environment. When food sits in landfills, it emits methane, which is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. As the impacts of climate change continue to get more severe, we should be taking every effort to reduce our own carbon footprint. Reducing the amount of food we waste is just one way to do so.

Finally, food waste is expensive. Americans throw out $165 billion worth of food each year. To fully understand just how much money that is, I compared it to the U.S. Federal Budget for the 2013 fiscal year. This amount is equivalent to what the federal government spent on education, homeland security, agriculture, commerce, and energy last year.

However, there are simple ways to reduce your food waste. Composting is a great example because it saves food scraps from landfills and turns them into soil for gardening. Serving smaller portions and buying less food are two more easy ways to reduce food waste. Another unique way to reduce food waste is with the app, PareUp. PareUp allows consumers to buy excess food from grocery stores, coffee shops, and juice bars at a discounted price.

So while our massive food waste habits are a problem, there are simple solutions. Reducing our food waste will not only save us money because we’ll be buying less food to waste, but it will help the environment, too.

Do Something About It

Have you ever gone to a restaurant and ordered something you don’t like? Been to a family dinner where your grandma shoved unwanted bags of leftovers in peoples’ hands? Gone to a buffet and taken more than you can eat?

If you answered yes to any of these, you are not alone.

In fact, one-third of the amount of food produced around the world is wasted every year. In the United States this waste equates to 35 million tons or $165,000,000 annually. But as big as the problem is, you can do something about it:



Compost your food scraps
Recycle and buy less at grocery stores
Donate surplus food to those in need
Feed animals with food not fit for human consumption
Request smaller portions at restaurants
Transform food waste into biogas

Samantha Cohen and Eric Estroff are juniors in the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington Univeristy.

This story is from our Planet Forward Campus Voices program—an opportunity for students to celebrate and explore our complex relationship with what we eat and where our food comes from.