Food Waste: We are the Problem and the Solution

Food Waste: We are the Problem and the Solution
Jennifer Roe

It is difficult to picture mountains of food rotting in landfills across the country when one in six Americans is food insecure, living each day not knowing what their next meal will be.  How about thinking of it in terms of dollars?  The food in these piles add up to $165 billion a year.  Therefore, we are spending $165 billion on food that is never consumed.  According to the report recently published by the NRDC, “Waste: How America is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill”, this is the reality in America right now.

Food waste pileIn recent months food waste in America has received a tremendous amount of attention in the media, in most part thanks to the NRDC report authored by, Dana Gunders, Project Scientist.  The primary message to take from the findings is that we waste 40% of our food.  This is not only a shocking problem because it could potentially feed millions of hungry Americans, but food waste also pollutes the planet and wastes our precious natural resources.  According to the NRDC report, food production from farm to table uses 10% of the total U.S. energy budget, half of our land, and 80% of the freshwater we consume.  When we waste 40% of our food, we waste these finite resources.

Within the realm of food waste, Farm to Freezer’s mission addresses surplus fresh produce at the local level, as farmers markets often have unsold fresh produce left after the market closes during the peak growing season.  Our social enterprise pre-empts food waste at farmers markets by freezing nutritious fresh produce picked at peak ripeness and provides it to people in need.  Dana Gunders praises Farm to Freezer after watching Cheryl’s recent TEDx talk, “I work quite a bit on how much food is wasted across the country, and love to point to solutions like yours!” She presented Farm to Freezer as a solution case study to the California Secretary of Agriculture.

Along with Farm to Freezer, other businesses and organizations are coming up with innovative ideas to reduce the amount of food going to landfills.  Nourish Now, a new Montgomery County based non-profit recovers food from restaurants and groceries repackages and distributes food to those in need.  The Montgomery County, MD Food Recover Task Force, spearheaded by Council Member Valerie Ervin is charged with connecting surplus food providers with social service food agencies to better distribute food to people who are food-insecure.

Food that is no longer fit for consumption should be diverted from our land-fills.  Bio-composting is the process of turning organic matter such as food waste into a useful source of clean energy.  The entrepreneurial business, Re-Nuble is planning to do exactly that.  They specialize in the sustainable recycling of organic waste and  are building closed-loop systems by using their Green Back Approach.  Re-Nuble collects organic waste (food scraps, yard trimming, etc.) and converts it into environmentally safe fertilizer and clean, renewable energy.  They are securing sites and permits and hope to be up and running later this year.

What You Can Do At Home
According to the NRDC, American families throw out roughly 25 percent of the food and beverages they purchase.  Interested in learning more about what you can do at home to reduce food waste?  Bio-composting?  The monthly magazine Biocycle is an example of a resource the public can use to learn how to bio-compost in their home, community, business, etc.  The magazine shows consumers how to handle organic residuals- yard trimmings, food waste, woody materials, biosolids, etc.  It is a wonderful place to be inspired by other innovative people who are recycling and putting food waste to good use.

If you don’t have the capacity to compost at home, you can hire a compost company like, Compost Crew, to pick up your home or office food waste.  As of today, they have collected over 200,000 pounds of organic waste!  Compost Crew is also helping to promote a sustainable community by giving the food scrap compost to local urban agriculture.  To have the crew start picking up organic waste at your home, you can sign up online here.  While other communities like San Francisco and Berkeley have had municipal food waste pick up in place for years, Takoma Park, Maryland is one of the first municipality in our region to pilot curbside compost pickup.

Overall, we all need to take responsibility for the food we waste and start taking action to make changes in our food supply chain.  In our homes we can start planning shopping trips ahead of time to ensure we buy only what we need.  Businesses can help reduce inefficiencies in our food system by tracking the waste they produce and setting a goals and a strategy to reduce it.  There needs to be more efficient channels to allow the redistribution of food at the retail level. Farm to Freezer and other creative businesses, agencies and organizations are working to improve our local food system so that we can reduce food waste, nourish the hungry, and protect our planet.

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