From Farm to Fork to Landfill: The alarming truth about food waste

From Farm to Fork to Landfill: The alarming truth about food waste

Want to help the environment? Forget the solar panels and look inside your refrigerator. See that lettuce with a few brown spots? Or those leftovers from the Thai place? Eat ‘em instead of tossing them in the trash.

Food waste in America is a big problem. Nearly 600 billion pounds of food is produced every year, and, according to numerous studies, up to half is wasted, starting in the fields themselves. For instance, nearly half of all cucumbers planted aren’t harvested because they’re too curved to pack for shipping. About 10 percent of lettuce never leaves the farm.

During shipping, up to 15% of crops like tomatoes, leafy greens and fragile fruits are tossed before they reach supermarket shelves. But it doesn’t end there – supermarkets throw away an estimated 300 million pounds of food every day.

So let’s say food actually makes it home with you. If you’re like most Americans, you buy items you forget about or don’t need or don’t eat, and wind up wasting about a quarter of what you buy. Americans now waste enough food to fill the Rose Bowl, wasting 50% more food than we did in the mid-1970s.

About half of what we toss at home is still in the original packaging as it heads for landfills, where it makes up about 20% of the solid waste stream (second only to paper). Sadly, very little discarded food is donated to charity or composted – less than three percent, in fact.

Once at the landfill, rotting food produces methane, a greenhouse gas with 20 times the warming power of carbon dioxide. A recent L.A. Times article called food waste, “… climate change coming directly from your kitchen.”

That’s food that could be re-routed to feed the 50 million households dealing with food insecurity issues, not able to meet their most basic food needs.

That’s money that’s being wasted, too: studies say that an average family of four wastes almost $2,300 on food they don’t eat.

And Americans feel guilty about wasting food. In the newly-released EcoPulse™ 2012, we found that it was the number one thing Americans feel guilty about when it comes to sustainability. Almost 4 in 10 Americans said they feel bad about tossing food instead of eating it.

So how do we leverage this insight into true behavior change? We’re working on a campaign idea right now that just might do the trick. (Slick sales pitch: Call us if you’re interested in joining our newest coalition campaign)

Here are some other things you can do or encourage your consumers to do:

  • Make sure your refrigerator is cold enough. If the thermostat is off even a few degrees, food will spoil faster. If the ice cream is soft, it’s probably too low.
  • Compost your food scraps. You can put fruits, veggies, breads (and pretty much anything that’s not meat) straight into your garden beds.
  • Plan meals in advance.
  • Serve smaller portions.
  • Eat your leftovers.

Try these things at home.  Then try them on your consumers if it’s a fit with your brand — clearly they’re hungry for a solution (nobody likes feeling guilty) so giving them one is a win for everybody.

About the Author

Karen Barnes

Karen is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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