Climate change and the pressing need to reduce our global carbon emissions may feel like an overwhelming problem to us as individuals. However, we all have the power to make a difference. One important thing we can do to reduce climate-change-causing carbon in the atmosphere is reduce food waste.
Food production accounts for around one-quarter – 26% – of global greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, food is a basic human need. On our way to a more sustainable future, we are certainly not going to eliminate food; but we can make sure the food we produce is not wasted.
Unfortunately, a large percentage of the green house gas emissions generated from food productions is caused by food that is never eaten:
- Up to 40% of food produced for human consumption is wasted;
- Food waste is the single largest contributor to municipal landfills; and
- Food waste is responsible for around 6% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.
To put this in context: Emissions from food waste are around three times the global emissions from aviation. Or, if we were to put it in the context of national emissions, it would be the world’s third largest emitter. Only China (21%) and the United States (13%) emitted more. That’s why among out of the 80 climate change solutions ranked by Project Drawdown, reducing food waste is ranked as the No. 3 action item out of 80.
How is this possible?
Well, we take for granted the land, labor, and energy it takes to grow, harvest, and transport the food we enjoy. For example, when you throw out a pound of bananas you never got around to making into banana bread, the impact on the environment is not only from the methane emitted from the bananas in the landfill. The true impact comes from: the deforestation of rainforest to make room for the corner of the farm that grows the bananas that will never be eaten; the nutrients in the banana peel, which have value but no market; the semi truck hauling the bananas destined for the trash; and the grocery stores’ energy to sell you those lovely bananas.
A few suggestions to reduce food waste:
- Plan ahead and buy only what you need. Avoid unnecessary purchases by planning your grocery list ahead of time.
- Eat 100% of the food you buy. You’ll save more than $1,000.00 per year which is the average amount we spend on food we end up tossing.
- Use your freezer. Cooking and freezing food – especially produce – before it goes bad is a great way to avoid having to toss it.
- Be creative with leftovers. Stage your own “Chopped”
- Donate money and/or food to food rescue organizations. An important player in food waste reduction is the network of hundreds of food rescue organizations around the world, rescuing food that would otherwise go to waste and providing it to food insecure populations. The work these organizations do is critical, especially in times of uncertainty (e.g., global pandemic). At the end of this article is a list of local organizations where you can donate money or food.
- At the very least, unused food should be composted, where nutrients are retained to turn healthy soil back into food and the food remains out of landfills.
Of course, reducing global carbon emissions is a complicated and enormous undertaking that requires numerous methods of carbon reduction. But, reducing food waste is one significant and relatively easy solution that we can all help with in our own homes. So, as you invest in solar panels or a Tesla, please also consider reducing your food waste.
Local opportunities for you to share your produce or other food – with those in need– before it becomes food waste:
- Edmonds Food Bank, edmondsfoodbank.org
- The Little Free Pantries, www.littlefreepantry.org
- Lynnwood Food Bank www.foodpantries.org/ci/wa-lynnwood
- Concern For Neighbors Food, www.concern4neighborsfb.org
- Westgate Chapel, westgatechapel.com/gatherings/new-heart-ministries/food-clothing-bank-2
Resources used for this article and for you to explore:
— By T.C. Richmond and Lisa Herb
The authors, T.C. Richmond and Lisa Herb, are members of the City of Edmonds Mayor’s Climate Protection Committee.