Don’t Throw Your Leftovers Away!

Issue 13, Volume 112

By Erica Li 

The fourth period end bell rings, and I still have half of my chicken sandwich left. Every day, I am faced with this same dilemma: what do I do with my remaining food? It does not belong in the recycling bin, but it also does not belong in the paper bin. The best solution would be a compost bin, but Stuyvesant does not have one. With no options left, I throw the last half of my chicken sandwich into the trash and rush off to my next class.

Food waste is a global crisis. In the US alone, we waste about 30 to 40 percent of our food supply. That’s billions of dollars spent on food that is never eaten and could have been given away or better used.

The issue of food waste actually begins at the start of the food chain: the growing of crops, livestock, and manufacturing. At these earlier stages, most of the food that is discarded is called food loss, which is food lost due to climate and environmental factors. In low-income countries especially, limitations in harvesting technology can result in damaged produce or poor yield. In fact, most food waste is from the early stages of the food production process rather than the later stages of the food cycle in these countries.

Though farming can be impacted by adverse weather and crop damage, thousands of acres of edible produce still go to waste because of market fluctuations or cosmetic imperfections, such as an apple having a singular brown spot. In the United States, the Department of Agriculture Grades and Standards provides farmers and buyers with an exact language to describe the quality and condition of produce, even specifying the particular color, size, and quality of the perfect produce. Following this standard allows farmers to call their produce US No. 1 Produce, which demands the highest market price compared to US No. 2 and subsequent tiers. Though these standards are technically voluntary, produce that does not meet these standards is rejected and wasted, contributing to food waste, food that was originally produced for human consumption but was then thrown away.

Food waste does not just magically disappear into the world. The entire process of growing, harvesting, and manufacturing food utilizes a lot of water. To grow one apple, 125 liters of water are necessary, and 15,400 liters of water are needed to grow one kilogram of beef. This quantity is an incredibly large amount of water that is used on an annual basis, and much of it is wasted. Additionally, the process of growing food utilizes a lot of land. For example, 28 percent of the world’s agricultural areas (an area larger than the size of China) is developed and used for the production of food that is never eaten by people.

The food that gets thrown away, whether during the earlier or the later stages of food production, ends up in landfills, which contributes to the production of methane, a greenhouse gas. According to the Food Wastage Footprint, the carbon footprint—the total carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels by a particular person or group—of food waste stands at 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 each year. This statistic means that if food waste were a country, it would rank as the third highest national emitter of greenhouse gases after the United States and China.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set a goal in 2015 to cut the nation’s food waste by 50 percent by 2030. However, the United States still does not have a single baseline estimate of food loss and waste. The two measures that do describe the amount of food loss and waste in the US, the EPA and the USDA, differ greatly from each other. The EPA estimates how many pounds of food waste per person are sent for disposal each year, while the USDA estimates the amount of food loss and waste from the food supply at the retail and consumer levels. Neither makes a broad estimate of the level of food waste and loss in the US. In order to tackle this issue of food waste and loss, the US government must first create an initiative to gain this necessary, comprehensive data analysis.

On the consumer’s part, the best case scenario is to avoid producing food waste altogether, also known as zero waste. There are five main principles to zero waste:

1) Refuse: Refuse to buy things with a lot of packaging (plastic, paper, strings, etc.).

2) Reduce: Reduce the amount of things you are buying.

3) Reuse: Repurpose and reuse worn out items. If you have to buy things with packaging on them, reuse the plastic and paper parts. Purchase reusable products like steel water bottles.

4) Recycle: Try to buy recyclable items and put your trash in the correct colored trash bins.

5) Rot: Compost everything that is compostable! Up to 80 percent of waste by weight is organic and can be composted.

However, there are other methods, besides living a completely zero waste lifestyle, to reduce food waste. For example, apps that aim to decrease waste are especially helpful for the environment. For example, on the Too Good To Go app, restaurants and bakeries list leftover food that would otherwise be thrown away at low costs. Users can then purchase and pick up a “magic bag.” You can even specify dietary requirements.

Food waste and loss are an everyday issue in our society that needs to be fixed. Food sent to landfills then contributes to climate change and global warming. In order to reduce the amount of food waste we each produce, we need to start moving toward a zero waste lifestyle through the aforementioned 5 Rs. We should also start pressuring the government to actually implement new initiatives and changes in our country.