Historically, humans have had a close connection with food. In the United States, 90% of the population lived on farms in the 1800s, while today the number is only around 1%. Over time, the industrialization of food production has caused many people to become increasingly removed from what they consume. While living off the land used to be commonplace, we now can simply walk into a grocery store and be met with an abundant food supply. There’s no doubt that this has made accessing food easier for some. However, people have also become less connected to their food, leading to decreased awareness about food waste. Food waste is a major issue in the U.S. According to Feeding America, each year, 119 billion pounds of food is wasted in the United States alone. In this blog, we will discuss the main contributors to food waste and provide techniques for how we can prevent it.
Waste occurs at every stage of the supply chain, from farm to fork. Businesses such as grocery stores, restaurants, and businesses, account for most of the food waste in the U.S. On the production side, excess food gets left on the fields or discarded due to stringent cosmetic standards. In the manufacturing phase, byproducts of the produced foods are discarded even though they are perfectly edible. For example, when baby carrots are produced, the whole carrot is cut into the familiar small, rounded shape, while the majority of the rest of the carrot is discarded. In the retail stage, unregulated date labeling accounts for 50% of food waste. It’s commonplace for high quantities of edible food to be thrown away due to sell-by or best-by dates placed by manufacturers.
By the time food reaches our plates, a fraction of it has already gone to waste during the manufacturing process. However, a new law was recently passed in the state of California and currently being implemented called Senate Bill 1383 (SB 1383), with the goal to reduce the amount of compostable material (food scraps, food/beverage soiled paper, and yard trimmings) that is sent to the landfill. This law targets businesses, mandating them to compost food scraps and for large food generating businesses/organizations to recover edible food for donation or work with an entity to redistribute the edible food.
Although businesses create the majority of food waste, households are still significant contributors to the problem. At RethinkWaste, we promote the 4 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot. We always recommend finding creative ways to reduce and reuse your food scraps before tossing them in the compost bin.
While there are many ways to reduce food waste at home, being intentional about what you purchase and creating a meal planning technique that works for you is one effective strategy to combat food waste.
- Create a meal plan for the week with the shelf-stable food you already have and go to the grocery store once or twice a week to buy specific perishable items you need for a recipe.
- Store perishable items in a highly visible spot in the fridge so that you don’t forget to eat them. This is especially important considering perishable items contribute to three-quarters of total food waste.
- Reuse your food scraps. One example is using coffee grounds to make an exfoliating body scrub to use in the shower. With certain produce items, you can even re-grow your food scraps. You can also collect vegetable scraps in your freezer to make vegetable stock later.
The last R in the 4 Rs is Rot. This is short for composting! Under SB 1383, California residents are required to divert compostable material to the green compost bin/cart as of January 1, 2022. Composting is essentially the food version of recycling, as food scraps naturally decompose into carbon-rich fertilizer under the right conditions. In addition, composting is a better alternative to throwing food scraps into the garbage because of the environment the food breaks down in. In the landfill, food scraps aren’t properly aerated, which causes them to release excessive methane gas as they decompose. Therefore, composting helps repurpose food scraps and avoid excess greenhouse gas emissions.
If you live in the RethinkWaste service area, you may request a compost bin/cart from Recology if you don’t already have one. Click here to learn more about why composting is important, how to compost properly at home, and what does and does not go in the compost.
From farm to fork, food waste is a major issue, but there are also groups of determined people working to eliminate it at every step of the way. We encourage you to join us on our journey to reduce food waste and divert organic materials from the landfill! Feel free to reach out with any questions or comments about food waste, SB 1383, or composting using the contact information on our website.