When was the last time you threw away food? I’ll bet it was very recently – maybe within the last few days, hours, or even minutes. In fact, statistically speaking, you will probably throw away $6 worth of food today. The average American throws away about $2,200 in wasted food every year and probably doesn’t think twice about it.

The cumulative effect of these actions is staggering. Every single day about 365 million pounds of food gets wasted in the United States. That’s enough to fill the 90,000 seat Rose Bowl Football Stadium every day. It also results in about 694,000 tons of CO2 emissions – the same amount 133,000 cars produce in one year, and wastes 35 billion gallons of water – enough to fill 53 million Olympic swimming pools.

Who’s To Blame?

Now you may be thinking, “well obviously that isn’t me. I don’t waste food, I LOVE food.” But chances are, regardless of your affection for food, you end up wasting a lot of it. In fact, according to ReFED, a multi-stakeholder organization responsible for one of the most comprehensive food waste studies ever done, about 43% of the food wasted in the US happens in the home (as in the below image), making the household the single largest waster of food in the US.

Breakdown of waste occurrence throughout the supply chain. Circled: households. (via ReFED)

So yes, that (probably) means you. Unfortunately, about 95% of the food we throw away ends up in landfills. As food decomposes in landfills, it produces methane – a greenhouse gas with 25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Additionally, all the resources that went into growing, processing, transporting, and producing that food are being wasted. Thus, wasted food contributes to climate change both “coming” (in production) and “going” (in disposal).

BUT, I am not here to chastise or criticize. We’re all in this together. I may not waste any food, but I’m here for you. Okay, okay fine… I waste food too. Acceptance is the first step to recovery. So, now that we’ve all accepted that we waste a lot of food, what can we do about it?

We’re The Problem, But We’re Also The Solution

Luckily, realizing that there is a problem is arguably more than half of the battle – being more aware of the problem can help you cut back. It can be as simple as realizing that every time you’re on a health kick and buy a bunch of vegetables on a whim, half of them end up wasting away in the back of the fridge. Make sure to take stock of what you have in your house before you go shopping, and always shop with a plan. And be wary of those pesky sell-by dates – they may not mean what you think they do. Try to plan meals out days or weeks in advance, and shop specifically for those meals. Take care to store vegetables and other perishables properly, so as to extend their shelf life as long as possible. Check out this EPA page for some more useful tips and tricks. Oh, and NEVER shop when you’re hungry!

There are many different solutions that can be implemented to put a stop to this global environmental and social issue, but changing our perspective and willingness to reduce the amount of food we waste is the first step and can make a huge difference. And as a bonus, saving $6 per day could, in just a few months, mean buying that new GoPro, making a car payment, or surprising your significant other with that lovely piece of jewelry. The amount of food that is wasted on this planet is truly one of the greatest tragedies of our time, and we all share a social and environmental imperative to take action. And if that’s not enough for you… I guess saving money never hurt, either.

 

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