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Food Waste Solutions (2022 Guide)

Author: Marketing
Date: February 3, 2024

Before ACT dives into food waste solutions, we need to face an ugly truth that the US alone wastes around 40% of its food supply! That is about 125 to 160 billion pounds of food that goes into the trash bin. The sad thing is that a lot of this food waste is still safe, edible, healthy, and full of nutrients.

So you might be wondering: why is this food wasted? There are lots of reasons. They could be spoiled due to weather, improper preservation, improper handling, or bad quality of ingredients. Overproduction, instability of markets, overbuying, overstocking, poor food planning, or missing out the expiration date can also be major causes.

This article further explains the harmful effects of too much food waste, how to lessen food waste, benefits of preventing food waste, and what the government is doing to solve the food waste problem.

Effects of Food Waste to Global Waste

For many people, food waste is just uneaten meals, and they don’t think much about it after scraping it from the plate to the trash bin. However, such waste drains a lot of money. Around $218 billion dollars are lost due to food waste in the US.

Also, due to health and sanitation regulations enacted by the federal or state governments, hotels and restaurants dispose of foodstuff that are not consumed within a certain period, usually a number of hours, even though they’re still perfectly consumable. Rarely is this food donated to the less privileged out of concern of contamination and legal action.

In addition, food waste causes unnecessary strain on the environment:

  • It adds wastes to water supplies, farmlands, cattle, and other resources.
  • Spoiled food which is infested with bacteria can become toxic
  • If it seeps through potable groundwater aquifers, it could initiate a health problem in the municipality.

It’s therefore important to diminish food wastage. Even a small percentage can make a huge difference. In fact, if Americans are able to reduce food waste by 15%, there would be enough food to feed over 25 million people per year.

According to recent waste management and recycling statistics, the world generates 2 billion tons of waste every year. As the human population increases dramatically over the next few years, scientists project that this number will also increase to more than 3.40 billion tons in 2050. That number is too huge to sustain a healthy and clean environment.

A significant part of this percentage is food waste, considering that people eat each day.  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted all over the world each year. Just imagine just how many millions of starving people can be fed with all that food.

Obviously, the increase of food waste also increases the volume of global waste. Worse, food waste severely affects the environment. Here are just some of its environmental effects:

  • Loss of biodiversity
    To maximize agricultural yields and profit, and to address the growing need for food, farmers need a lot of arable land. With the limited amount of arable land, farmers have increasingly encroached fertile wild areas such as forests and grasslands. The conversion of these lands to farms and plantations led to the destruction of wildlife habitats and, subsequently, biodiversity.
  • Increase in pollution
    Agricultural practices such as mass rearing of livestock, mono-cropping, and pesticides use vastly contributes to chemical pollution in waterways, negatively affecting marine life. In addition, these practices alter the natural balance of compounds in the land, making the land itself toxic or uninhabitable to its own denizens.
  • Wastage of fertile land areas
    According to a study by the FAO, processed but unconsumed food amounts to about 1.4 billion hectares of land. That is one third of the Earth’s agricultural land. In another way, we are wasting over 30% of our fertile, arable, and agricultural land just because of food waste. This land could have been used for better purposes such as protected wildlife habitats or areas for environmental research.
  • Increased water footprint and usage
    It takes a colossal amount of fresh water to irrigate land used for agriculture. Thus, if we’re wasting around 30% of our agricultural land due to food wastage as stated above, then it follows that 30% of the freshwater used in the production and processing of food goes to waste. This is called blue water footprint, which is the volume of consumed surface and groundwater that goes to waste in this process.

    Just to give you a better context on water wastage, producing a kilo of beef uses 50,000 liters of water. 1000 liters of water is wasted for a glass of spilled or spoiled milk. On a global scale, scientists estimate that 250 cubic kilometers of water go down the drain due to food wastage.

  • Hastening of climate change
    Scientists estimate that the production of food then later goes to waste produces 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions in the earth’s atmosphere. This massive amount of greenhouse gases accelerates climate change and global warming. In fact, it’s believed that food waste is one of the biggest causes of the accumulation of greenhouse gases.

    Why so? The use of fossil fuels in food production, processing, transporting the foodstuff, and cooking all contribute to the increasing volume of greenhouse gases. Additionally, food waste emits methane, a greenhouse gas that is 83 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

  • Negative economic effects
    It takes a massive amount of money to produce food for millions of people. It also takes a huge amount of money to run waste management and recycling programs to curb the effect of human activity in the environment.

    Thus, food wastage has direct negative effects on the economy. FAO estimates that the economic losses linked with food wastage are more than $750 billion dollars per year. That’s a whole lot of money that could be used to fund other important projects and concerns.

    As you can see, it isn’t a good idea to waste a morsel of food. Not only does it affect the environment and economy, it also isn’t right. Just think about it: each ingredient, each meal you eat has its origins to a living organism that gave up its life for your sustenance. Wasting it is almost considered disrespect to that organism.

What are the Food Waste Solutions?

The facts and numbers above highlights the need to reduce food waste. The good thing is the steps needed for preventing food going down the trash are actually easy, practical, and doable.

Shop regularly

It has been ingrained that it’s wise to buy food in bulk to save money and lessen fuel consumption. However, buying in bulk may lead to more waste because people tend to buy more than they need.

It’s better to make regular trips to the grocery every few days rather than bulk purchase them once every two weeks. Also, make sure to use or consume all food you purchased during your last grocery trip before going out to buy more groceries.

Make a grocery list

Impulse buying generates lots of food waste because you tend to purchase food items you don’t actually need. To avoid that, list down the items you need to buy then stick to that list. Doing so allows you to not only reduce food waste but to also manage your budget more effectively.

Don’t just choose the perfect-looking produce

Do you spend a lot of time looking for the prettiest or the smoothest, most flawless-looking produce? If so, stop that practice. That’s because whether the food item looks nice or ugly, they often have the same taste and nutritional quality. The ones not selected just because they don’t look visually appealing end up as food waste.

Store food correctly

The labels of most food products contain instructions on how to store them properly. Follow these instructions to ensure food items don’t spoil prematurely. Here’s a guide on how to store food properly as recommended by the FDA.

Keep your refrigerator and freezer clean and uncluttered

Remember the saying “out of sight, out of mind”? This applies particularly to a cluttered and disorganized fridge. That’s because you may be storing food that has or about to be spoiled but you just can’t see it because it’s stuck back in the fridge.

Keep your refrigerator clean and organized so you can clearly see all the food you stored there. A good rule of thumb is to store new food items behind newer ones. In that way, the older food gets used or consumed and not wasted.

Save and use leftovers

Store leftovers in clear glass jars or bowls so you don’t forget them. If you have lots of leftovers, allocate a meal or a date to use up all those leftovers. Also, check out the Internet for recipes that use leftover food as ingredients.

Serve food in healthy amounts

One of the main culprits of food waste is not eating everything in a serving. The uneaten food is then scraped into the trash.

Thus, make sure portion sizes for each person are within healthy range. Not only will this reduce food waste but limiting portions will keep one’s weight down to a healthy level.

Eat the skins of produce and meat

When preparing dishes, people often throw away the skin of vegetables or fruits. But do you know that there are so many nutrients such as fibers, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in the skin of such produce?

In addition, skin from meats such as chicken, fish, or pork is packed with flavor. In some parts of the world, they’re considered the tastiest part of the animal.

Blend leftovers

Food waste such as peels, stems, and ends of fruits and vegetables may not look appetizing. However, if you blend these and sweeten it with honey or sugar, everything changes! These food waste suddenly become a nutritious, delightful, and refreshing smoothie that you can enjoy.

Turn food waste into compost

Composting is a process that breaks down organic substances into simpler compounds that make the soil healthy. You can make your own soil conditioner or fertilizer by composting leftover food. After a few weeks of natural processing, you can then use the compost to fertilize your lawn or garden.

These are just some of the many ways that you can do in which you can reduce food waste.

Food Expiration Guidelines

Food waste endangers the environment and wastes money. Knowing this, everyone---from individual people to business organizations---uses various means to reduce food waste. One of these ways is the labeling and adherence of food expiration dates. Adhering to food expiration dates enable consumers to use the product before it goes to spoilage, thus lessening food waste.

You might get confused with the terminology of expiration dates as labeled on the food packaging. Here’s a useful guide to guide you with the lingo:

“Sell by” date

This date tells the store how long a retailer should display the food product. In other words, you should purchase the product before the “sell by” date. In general, this is a guide for the business selling the product; it helps the establishment determine when to pull out the food product from their shelves.

Note that the “sell by” date is a guide for the quality of the product, not the date of spoilage. It means that the item is at its highest quality of level before the “sell by” date. After the date, it’s still safe to consume although not at its optimal quality.

“Best if used by (or before)” date

This date refers to quality rather than safety. This labeling is intended for customers, as much as the “sell by” date is intended for the seller. The food item is at its best flavor or quality before the “best if used by (or before)” date.

For example, sour cream has a fresher taste before this date. It’s still edible and safe to consume after the date, but you will notice a degradation of quality.

“Guaranteed fresh” date

Often used in bakery items, this date means that the product is still edible after the date. However, it won’t be at its optimal freshness.

“Pack” date

You can often find this date on canned or packaged food. It means that the product was packed on the “pack” date indicated on the label.

“Use by” date

This refers to the last date that the manufacturer recommends or guarantees for using the product while it is at its maximum quality.

“Expires on” date

The food expiration date refers to the last date that a certain food product should be consumed or eaten. If you decide to eat the food after the date, it’s at your own risk.

These dates are useful, but some manufacturers may opt not to put them on the labels. In addition, no dates are indicated due to the way certain food items are sold. For example, if you buy produce, meats, or fish from the farmers market, meat market, or fish market, you’ll get your purchase wrapped in an ordinary plastic or paper bag without any label.

Thus, here’s a basic guide that can help you estimate when the food is safe to eat:

  • Milk – usually safe after 1 week after selling
  • Eggs – often fine 3 to 5 weeks from the date of purchase
  • Poultry and seafood – cook or freeze within 1 or 2 days after purchase
  • Beef or pork – cook or freeze within 3 to 5 days
  • Canned goods - 5 to 18 months, depending on the acidity of the product

You can see how these dates can help you effectively manage your food supply and consumption. By adhering to these dates, you’re assured of eating safe, fresh, healthy, and high-quality food. Of course, this also prevents overstocking and wastage of food products.

Benefits of Food Waste Prevention

Based on the information presented above, it is quite obvious that we all need to control our food waste in order to protect the environment. Putting in mind a conscious effort not to waste food does wonders to your household.

  • By buying just enough food for you and your family as well as consuming everything on a given time frame, you save a lot of money. You don’t throw away dollars on foodstuff that’s just going to end up in the waste bin.
  • By buying only the sufficient amount of food for you and your family, you avoid overeating and maintain a healthy weight.
  • You lessen the chances of food poisoning within your household. When you store contaminated food, there’s a chance that one of you will accidentally eat it.
  • You keep your kitchen and pantry clean, well-organized, and smelling good. Food waste is dirty, messy, and stinky.
  • You keep rats, cockroaches, and flies off your property; these pests are in a constant for food.

Now, these same benefits apply to the community, nation, and the world but on a vastly bigger scale. Just imagine everyone being able to save a lot of money, stay healthy, and have clean homes. But more than that, reducing food waste offers several more benefits:

  • Less food waste means less greenhouse emissions. We can prevent several tons of carbon dioxide, methane, and other harmful green gasses from being released into the atmosphere if we don’t dump a ton of food waste in the landfill.
  • In connection to the benefit mentioned above, we also conserve landfill space.
  • By not throwing away food, we prevent the occurrence of pests, food-borne, or water-borne diseases that could endanger public health. Contaminated waste food can seep into the ground and contaminate potable groundwater sources. Rodents and bugs that scour piles of food waste can sneak into homes, offices, and facilities, bringing with them harmful pathogens.
  • Sustainable approaches to growing and processing food drastically lessen the carbon footprint of food production and manufacturing.
  • A collective initiative to reduce food waste saves billions of hectares of land, and hundreds of cubic square kilometers of water.
  • Reducing food waste also reduces the energy required to produce and process food. In turn, this lowers down water, air, and land pollution.
  • Reducing food waste helps keep the cost of food products affordable, allowing more people access to healthy, reasonably priced food.
  • Through the reduction of food waste, we can improve national or even global food security. We can potentially feed people suffering from hunger and malnutrition.

You can see how we---whether individuals or nations---can help not just our own community but the entire planet if we consciously make an effort to curb food waste.

How Can the Government Reduce Food Waste?

As the leading institute of a country, the US government has a crucial role in cutting back food waste. In 2019, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formulated an inter-agency strategy to deal with food waste.

The strategy, which is named “Winning on Reducing Food Waste FY 2019-200 Federal Interstate Strategy,” focuses on six important priority areas which the 3 agencies will work on together. These goals are:

  • to enhance coordination between the 3 agencies
  • to boost consumer education and outreach efforts
  • to enhance guidance and coordination on food loss and waste measurement
  • to clarify and communicate information regarding food safety, food date labels, and food donations
  • to work in partnership with the private sector in reducing food loss and waste across the supply chain
  • to support food waste reduction by federal agencies in their respective facilities

Check out this link for EPA’s guide on sustainable management of food.

In addition, visit this link from the USDA regarding the impact of food waste. It also enumerates suggested actions that farmers, businesses, consumers, schools, organizations, and consumers can do in order to help curb food waste.

Conclusion

Healthy food is what keeps every organism on Earth alive. As humans living on this planet, we have a huge responsibility on ensuring that healthy, good-quality food is available, accessible, sustainably produced, and well managed. By following food waste solutions layed out in this guide, we can achieve this lofty goal of helping our fellowmen and preserving the environment at the same time.

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