Global food waste is one of the most upsetting failures in the complex web of our dirty energy linear economy, particularly food wasted in the United States where we’re so capable of creating systems to manage food efficiently, with little or no loss.
According to the USDA, 30–40 percent of the food produced in the United States each year ends up in landfills, which is nearly 40 million tons of food. Meanwhile, approximately 14 million households in the US are food insecure. This maddening dichotomy is disgraceful.
Landfills take up approximately 1.8 million acres of land in the US, and the vast majority of this refuse is food waste. According to the United Nations, if food waste was a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, right behind China and the United States.
Feeding food waste into landfills creates methane that is 80 times stronger than CO2. Some argue that methane only stays in the atmosphere for 12 years, compared to carbon that hovers for up to a thousand years. But with the Doomsday Glacier threatening to disappear by 2025, methane’s potency might prove to be the catalyst that pushes us past the tipping point and triggers runaway warming.
In August 2021, the IPCC released its sixth report that came with a Code Red for Humanity warning that demanded we move swiftly to act on climate if we want to stay below 1.5ºC, which we of course do. But, in the past 11 months since the IPCC Report was shared with the global public, there have only been tiny steps, which means we’ll soon barrel past 1.5ºC.
Esteemed climatologist Michael E. Mann warned that “1.5ºC is catastrophic warming.” Thus, if global warming exceeds 1.5ºC, many millions will die.
Much of the delay in implementing federal climate action targets and mandates is tied to the need for legislative policies that require a transition to clean energy by specific near term dates, and that provide incentives. With so much political polarization and divisiveness, passing effective climate legislation on a federal level, as well as on many state levels, is proving nearly impossible this legislative session, especially after Joe Manchin announced that he will not support climate legislation.
We will have to correct this on November 8, 2022.
Until then, we must quickly tackle low-hanging fruit that will have the biggest positive impact on curbing the largest percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions.
Food waste is at the top of the list.
There are 331 million Americans who theoretically eat three meals a day. Food waste not only potentially occurs with every single meal, but also during the “producing, processing, transporting, preparing, and storing” of our food, as noted by the USDA.
The USDA and EPA created a Food Recovery Hierarchy, which lists the most preferred to least preferred, to guide us in our decision making in our effort to drastically curb food waste. Listed in priority order on the “Food Loss and Waste” sign in the “People’s Garden” in front of the USDA building on National Mall in Washington, DC is the following:
- Source Reduction
- Feed Hungry People
- Feed Animals
- Industrial Uses
- Landfill Incineration
The main sources of food waste that we must reduce immediately (2022 through 2025) are:
- Grocery Stores
- Stadiums and large venues
Be sure to check back each week for more on reducing food waste now to help stay below 1.5ºC.
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