Food Waste in a Pandemic

Picture from: Molly Page @idahomolly Food waste is a global problem, with estimates of 1/3 of the World’s food production never being consumed.

A recurring theme of the 2020 pandemic seems to be highlighting existing issues that have been exacerbated by the way our world screeched to a halt. Changes in how we purchase, consume, and move about the world have illuminated difficulties in our environment, economy, and entertainment industries.
Food waste is a global problem, with estimates of 1/3 of the World’s food production never being consumed. The carbon footprint of food waste alone would rank between the current second and third-highest countries. While many countries have taken initiative to combat food waste through disposal limits and regulations on grocery store stock, the US has largely not taken action and now leads the world in food waste.
Food waste happens at multiple points in the supply chain. In poorer countries, waste comes from insufficient infrastructure to properly harvest, store, and disseminate food products. In more affluent countries, food waste happens at a more local level, frequently in grocery stores, restaurants, and in our homes.

milk web

During the pandemic, people’s eating and purchasing habits have changed. Eating out has drastically diminished due to restaurant closures and grocery bills have declined as many face diminished or total loss of wages. Closures of tourism and schools also contribute to fewer meals. These changes dramatically affect supply and demand, meaning that farmers have an extreme excess of product. Throughout the pandemic, billions of pounds food have been wasted, with pictures of mountains of potatoes, crops being plowed under, and milk being dumped into manure pits. (Picture Source, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
While volunteers are working to redistribute these resources to people in need, the reality is that these after-the-fact solutions lack the long-term infrastructure to address chronic food waste.
Food waste may seem small. The scraps left over from your take-out, the milk that spoiled, or the peel from an orange. While it can be easier to believe that restaurants and grocery stores are the culprits of mass food waste, the truth is that most food waste in the US is inside our homes. Food waste is not just letting items spoil, it is wasting the water to grow, labor to harvest, and fuel to transport these products. Decomposing foods contribute to greenhouse gasses and compose a staggering 21% of all landfill volume.


What can you do?

  1. Buy less: buy only what you need! Pay attention to what foods you’re actually eating and what you’re wasting.
  2. Compost. There are many beginning guides on composting, and some communities offer compost pickup or drop off sites for food.
  3. Check into food waste platforms, such as apps that let restaurants sell excess meals at a discounted price, or those that allow donations of perishable prepared food to homeless shelters and other needy persons.
  4. Advocate for legislation that eliminates food waste, such as the law recently passed in Vermont that bans food waste in the garbage.

 Kate Roberts, USA

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