In America, we throw away over 60 million tons of food each year. That makes us world leaders in the department of food waste (Go America!). According to the EPA, food waste is the largest single contributor to landfills, comprising about 21% of the total waste stream. And landfills, with their decomposing food waste, contribute about 20% of the total methane gases that adversely affect our climate today. So why do we chuck away nearly 40% of the food produced here?
According to an article in The Atlantic, the reasons is twofold: Calories are cheap and we're picky.
In our sanitized food system, we shy away from fruits and vegetables that are blemished or misshapen. They don't taste any less delicious. They just aren't perfect. So either they get tossed before they end up in the produce section, or the farmers don't even bother to send them to market, either leaving them in the ground or sending them to landfills.
This is insane behavior.
We are a country of consumers who get squeamish because our carrots or apples are not photo ready. With farmers it’s more complicated. There are cost of harvest vs. price at market issues, subsidies that dictate harvests and other factors. But even if we set aside the obvious implications of converting food waste to address food insecurity, throwing away fruit and vegetables because they’re not pretty is flat out making our planet hotter.
Back in 2015, the EPA pledged to reduce food waste by 50% by the year 2030 to lessen the impact on climate change. But that was then. And given that the current head of the EPA thinks that climate change is a scientific hoax, I don't think we can rely on them to hold to this initiative.
So what can we citizens do? Well, we can make the topic better known by talking about it. In July, there’s a Food Waste Fair https://www.foodwastefair.nyc/, billed as a soup to nuts event to help reduce food loss and waste. And in September, Food Tank, a think tank for the food system is hosting a Summit focusing on Food Loss and Food Waste. Further with Food (https://furtherwithfood.org/) also provides an excellent starting point for understanding the issue.
But talk alone won’t change things. We have to do more. Personally, I think the only way we can begin to solve this is by creating businesses that deal with food waste. Entrepreneurs are always looking for ways to find solutions to some pain that people are feeling.
Like the pain the 40% of the global population living in coastal areas are going to feel as higher temperatures continue to melt the ice pack at unprecedented levels and raise the sea levels.
There are businesses doing something about food waste, like D.C. Central Kitchen, Intermarché, Misfit Juicery and others. Last time I checked, there were over 60 businesses that had some connection to food waste. That’s a start.
The truth is, as big as the problem is, the amount of opportunity is even larger. The pain is there. It’s our jobs as entrepreneurs to find ways to ease that pain. The clock is ticking.