According to a 2014 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans waste 40 percent of their food, sending most of that waste to landfills. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that 20 percent of what goes into municipal landfills is food, making food the largest source of waste in the country.
This is waste on a host of levels–we waste food that could feed those with food insecurity; we add waste to overstuffed landfills, and the wasted food costs $165M to the American economy.
“Wasting less in the kitchen is just smart economics”, said Dana Gunders, a project scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Her book, “Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook,” came out in 2015.
The EPA says that 40 to 50 percent of food waste comes from consumers and 50 to 60 percent from businesses. The EPA has launched its own program, Sustainable Management of Food, to educate everyone from schoolchildren to restaurant owners about how to reduce food waste.
Many cities in the U.S. have implemented composting programs that go along with weekly trash and recycling collections. In 2009, San Francisco launched its Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance “requiring all persons located in San Francisco to separate their recyclables, compostables and landfilled trash and to participate in recycling and composting programs.” This made the city the first to implement a local municipal ordinance to universally require source separation of all organic material, including food residuals.
Now, San Francisco collects some 600 tons of food waste per day, sending it to composting facilities that in turn convert the food to soil and fertilizer for farms. The composting program is part of San Francisco’s “zero waste” program, the city’s three bin system waste management system that separates trash, recycling and compost helps it divert 80 percent of its waste from landfills.
Dana Gunders has plenty advice for home shoppers and chefs to reduce food waste. She not only recommends careful planning, she has created checklists, simple recipes, and shopping suggestions to get the most out of your groceries and your budget. Tips include:
- How to shop smarter
- How to better plan meals
- How to manage expiration dates
- How to use the fridge and freezer to extend food life
- How to use leftovers
- How to properly store food
“Imagine walking out of the grocery store with four bags full of fresh food, dropping one entire bag, and not bothering to pick it up,” she says on her website. “Seems crazy, but that’s essentially what most of us are doing all the time. The average American throws away $30 each month in the form of uneaten food.”
The EPA says, “In 2014, we disposed of more than 38 million tons of food waste. By managing food sustainably and reducing waste, we can help businesses and consumers save money, provide a bridge in our communities for those who do not have enough to eat, and conserve resources for future generations.” The EPA recommends cooking and freezing food before it reaches its expiration date as one simple step to prevent waste.