Last November, Ira Flatow, host of “Talk of The Nation” on NPR hosted the show “The Ugly Truth About Food Waste in America”. Before finding the program, I have listened to speakers and read various articles about food waste, but was never exposed to what I learned from Ira and his guests.
Over 40% of food American’s purchase goes to waste and is thrown out. This number is staggering but is hard to conceptualize. You could also calculate this number as 33 million tons of waste. This number is a little easier to picture, but still a slight challenge. In monetary terms, this is $165 million of food. Regardless of how you calculate the numbers, what always tends to be forgotten is the wasted resources used to make the food.
First and foremost, when we throw away food, 97% of that food goes to landfills. The food sits in the landfills and emits methane gases that help fuel global warming. If “wasted food” was a country, it would rank 3rd in the world in greenhouse gas emissions (behind China and the United States). And that’s not even counting the emissions from petroleum needed to transport the food from the farm to your plate.
Another big issue with food waste is a lack of knowledge about the food we eat. People know less and less about our food because of the ever-growing distant relationship between grower and consumer. Because of this we heavily rely on expiration dates to know when our food has gone bad. The issue is expiration dates tell us more about when the food will reach its maximum quality rather than when it goes bad. Because of this Americans throw away fresh food on a daily basis.
Finally, the biggest resource we waste from throwing away food is water. Imagine you’re starving and order a hamburger at a restaurant, after realizing it doesn’t fill you up and you order another. Halfway through the burger you feel full, and decline to eat the rest. Do you know how much water you wasted by throwing away that burger? The equivalent of the amount of water it takes for an hour-long shower. Annually, the water wasted by Americans from throwing away food could fill up Crater Lake (below), twice.
After listening to the program I was in awe by how much we waste each time we throw out food. My outlook on food waste completely changed now knowing how much I waste throughout the entire process. Will you think twice now before you throw away the last bite of your food? And do you think the secondary waste is as big of an issue as the food we waste on a daily basis?