This article was originally published in Teton Valley News on June 7, 2012.
“Eat your vegetables – children are starving in China!” We’ve all probably heard, or said, these words at some point in our lives. Perhaps the county where the starving children reside has changed, but the sentiment is the same; we have a duty to clean our plates because not everyone is lucky enough to have full plates. Clever children who offer to send their leftovers to the hungry children across the globe quickly learn a lesson in the politics of hunger. Uneaten food on our plates can’t be shipped to China, Africa, or even to the nearly 15% of American households that are food insecure. Hunger is a serious issue, but there are stronger arguments for reducing food waste.
First, it takes resources to produce food. Wasting food, therefore, wastes water, fuel, and the time and energy of farmers and chefs. According to the US EPA, over a quarter of all food in America gets thrown in the trash. That’s a lot of time, energy, and resources being thrown away!
Food waste also tends to be heavy. Since Teton County pays for waste disposed at the Mud Lake landfill, wasted food is a costly endeavor. Food waste is the second largest component of municipal solid waste streams nationwide. Reducing food waste has the potential to save Teton County tens of thousands of dollars a year.
Finally, once food waste reaches the landfill, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. Plenty of people carpool, winterize their homes, and turn off lights when they leave rooms to conserve energy and reduce their carbon footprint. Minimizing food waste should be a focus of emissions reduction as well.
The easiest way to reduce food waste is to serve smaller portions. Leftovers on a plate are usually tossed, while food still in the serving dish can be saved for future meals. Creative cooking can provide ways to utilize edibles that are rarely consumed, like carrot tops and unusual cuts of meat.
Of course, not all food waste is edible. Anyone who eats a healthy diet of fresh fruits and vegetables finds their trash filled with seeds, pits, skins and stems, which comprises about a third of household waste. What can we do with all this waste? Compost! Through the process of decomposition, food scraps can be turned into rich soil to augment gardens and houseplants. Yard and garden waste can be composted, too, either through mulching mowers or compost bins. Composting won’t save starving children anywhere, but reducing food waste conserves natural resources, reduces county expenditures on waste disposal, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Depending on how you dispose of your household waste, it might even reduce your personal waste disposal costs.
For more tips on how to reduce food waste, visit the US EPA’s website for the food recovery challenge.