$165 Billion Up in Smoke!

According to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans waste $165 billion worth of food a year of which ends up incinerated as energy! Let’s be clear about this. Burning food or trash is not the type of reuse or recycling which defines sustainability. Sustainability relates to a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged or relates to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods and practices that doesn’t deplete or damage those resources. Food waste can grow more food. That’s a sustainable practice.

The NRDC said that more than 20 pounds of food is wasted each month among 311 million Americans. This amounts to $1,350 to $2,275 annually for a family of four.

Food a plenty, maybe too plentiful.

Too much abundance?

“Food is simply too good to waste,” the report said. “Given all the resources demanded for food production, it is critical to make sure that the least amount possible is needlessly squandered on its journey to our plates.”

Here’s what the report found:

  • American homes are the primary source for waste, with families throwing out approximately 25% percent of the food and beverages they buy
  • Enticing impulse buys, buying in bulk and eating out as strong contributors to the waste. They believe most Americans decide to eat out even when there is food left in the refrigerator at home. We have too much of it and place little to no value in what’s thrown away
  • Experts also found that many families who cook are preparing more than what they can actually consume. The average size of a dinner plate in the U.S. today is 36 percent larger than it was in 1960. A remedy for this is leftover night or repurpose the leftovers to create new dishes

According to the National Resource Defense Council…

“Food represents a small portion of many Americans’ budgets, making the financial cost of wasting food too low to outweigh the convenience of it,” the report said. “The issue of wasted food is simply not on the radar of many Americans, even those who consider themselves environment-or-cost-conscious.”

Something to consider about the report…

In reading the report it’s believed that we no longer value food, because of its relative low cost. But, is that true? This belief contradicts the argument that price is a major factor many families make in considering healthy dietary alternatives, such as, fresh vegetables vs. processed foods. What maybe at play are the labels used to describe certain foods e.g., junk food or fast food? Could it be that we don’t consider them to be substantial relative to terms like, “home cooking” or “comfort food” and the nostalgia they evoke? Since one-third of our meals are fast food, is it conceivable that this food group is the cause of our disrespect for meals in general?

In determining whether a family subsists on a fast food diet rather than selecting healthier alternatives, we have to consider how the social devaluation of food affects their buying decisions.

I think that our dietary decisions are based upon expediency and ability, or lack thereof, to create or plate nutritious foods. Consider the lack of fresh food retail operations in many of our urban environments. Values in those communities may have more to do with availability, rather than low cost e.g., the price of a “happy” meal.

What part does in store product placement and media advertisements play in contributing to our wasteful attitudes, if these contribute to our attitude about food and its subsequent waste?

So how can we get our waste under control? Stop buying in bulk, especially perishables. The wholesale, cost cutting stores know that:

  • You’re an impulse shopper, so they’ll load up on lost leaders while enticing you with the “idea” of saving money. Not spending it, saves it.
  • Shop more frequently to find daily specials. This will help you buy what’s needed and use it the same day.
  • Plan two main meals during the week. Any leftovers can be repurposed into exciting new dishes with a little imagination.
  • Reduce your cooking and serving portions. You’ll “waist” less. Get it?
  • Save the money you’ve kept in your own pocket.

We throw away $165 billion of food every year. So how much of that can you keep in your wallet?

As to restaurants…

  • 17 percent of restaurant meals are not eaten and too much food is served.
  • Restaurants are also charged with stocking more than they can actually serve.
  • Portion sizes can be two to eight times larger than USDA or FDA standard serving sizes.

“Particularly wasteful are large buffets, which cannot reuse or even donate most of what is put out because of health code restrictions,” the report said.

An example of this is a local retirement village that throws away 1000 lbs. of produce from their salad bar on a daily basis. Now multiply that times every facility in the country that have the same regulations and restrictions and you’ll begin to see the problem.

The report also blamed retail grocers.

“The retail model views waste as a part of doing business,” the report said. “Industry executives and managers view appropriate waste as a sign that a store is meeting quality-control and full-shelf standards.”

The report lists the following actions as wasteful retail practices:

  • Stores overstock displays of fresh produce to give an impression of bounty, leaving items at the bottom bruised and unsellable.
  • They make too much ready-to-eat food. “One grocer estimated that his store threw away a full 50% of the rotisserie chickens that were prepared,” the report said.
  • They throw out food in damaged or outdated promotional packaging (think holiday cookies) that is still edible.

Farms aren’t excluded from the report’s waste list.

The NDRC found that growers often overplant and have more crops than what is demanded. It also discovered that growers have plenty of edible food, but the food is just not marketable.

“A packer of citrus, stone fruit and grapes estimated that 20% to 50% of the produce he handles is unmarketable but perfectly edible,” the report said.

The report noted that food rotting in landfills makes up for 25% of methane emissions. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, methane can remain in the atmosphere for up to 15 years and is 20 times more likely to trap heat than carbon dioxide.

The overall findings showed that American waste is 10 times more that the waste in Southeast Asia. It is also up 50 percent since the 1970s.

The report offers several recommendations to the large amount of waste such as using standardization of date labels on food. They believe this can provide some assistance since Americans misread the “sell by” or “use by” messages.

The NDRC said that there has to be economic change as well.

“There is the plain economic truth that the more food consumers waste, the more those in the food industry are able to sell,” the report said.

And for the food you have to throw away, check out MyComposter!

This entry was posted in GWi Blast! News, Sustainable Family and tagged , , , by Greg F. Walton. Bookmark the permalink.

About Greg F. Walton

Greg F. Walton is owner and publisher of GWiBlast!, the blog of Green with Indy, Llc. As a company we advocate for a lifestyle that promotes family dining as a method to addressing our social issues. The quest in building Green with Indy is to position the "value" of pursuing a sustainable life through food and encouraging green wealth development, because no one should say they can't afford to eat vegetables. Within this purpose is to help individuals and companies reposition healthy eating and positive living as an exponential component to the wellbeing of the community at large. That is to say, a healthy diet and lifestyle is mutually beneficial to the physical and financial wellbeing of everyone. Within this parameter, we will educate, market, promote and disseminate information to the community on everything available that promotes and supports their efforts to live healthily.

Leave a Reply