After helping with the 10th annual Empty Bowls event in Harmony, I was curious to know more about food shortages. That research led me to some shocking, and quite frankly, depressing statistics about food waste. Luckily, there are a number of solutions.
“Americans Waste About A Pound of Food A Day, USDA Study Finds” -Forbes, 2018
This study published last year by the open access journal Public Library of Science, which took place from 2007 to 2014 included not only an estimation for the average food waste per person, but also the corresponding land area and resource waste, as well as other associations.
A pound is a lot, especially when multiplied by the number of Americans (around 330 million), which equals over 150,000 tons of food waste per day. Per day. Per year, we’re looking at approximately 112,000,000,000 pounds, or 56,000,000 tons, of food.
The USDA study went further to describe how much land use, water, fertilizers, pesticides, etc., are resultingly wasted. The energy and resources that go into making the food that is tossed out is a staggering amount. In America, 4.2 trillion gallons of irrigation water (6.36 million Olympic sized swimming pools annually), 780 million pounds of pesticides, and 1.8 billion pounds of fertilizers, are virtually wasted every single year.
Perhaps the most mind-boggling statistic is the equivalent acres of cropland that are essentially worked for no tangible reason. Thirty million acres. That seems to be a big number, but how big is it? To provide some perspective, Minnesota has 25.5 million acres of active cropland. Iowa has just over 30 million. That’s roughly 7% of U.S. cropland. Not only are those acres of crop production wasted, but also the farmer’s time and resources in a fruitless endeavor.
Where does the wasted food go? According to the EPA, 7.5 million tons of food were burned by energy recovery plants, 2.5 million tons were composted, and over 30.6 million tons were thrown into the landfill in 2017. Food represented 22% of the solid waste entering America’s landfills, which was the largest percentage over any other single source. Not only that, but food in landfills breaks down into methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Are there ways to curtail food waste? One of the easiest ways to keep food out of landfills is being aware and conscious of the food you’re putting on your plate. It happens to each of us when our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, but in general, practice taking smaller portions. It’s easier (and more socially correct) to add more to your plate than to put it back!
I realize that some things aren’t quite as tasty as leftovers as they were fresh from the oven or stove, but we’re all adults. Clean your plates for goodness sakes! Of course, if you have a designated composting area, that can go a long way as well for keeping food out of landfills.
I hope everyone has a fantastic and safe Thanksgiving season. Even if the exact numbers of this country’s food waste escape your memory, please consider how you can do your part to decrease food waste.
Minnesota Ag Land: www.nass.usda.gov/Quick_Stats/Ag_Overview/stateOverview.php?state=minnesota
Iowa Ag Land: www.nass.usda.gov/Quick_Stats/Ag_Overview/stateOverview.php?state=iowa
Food Waste 2015: journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0195405
EPA Food Waste 1960 – 2017: www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/national-overview-facts-and-figures-materials
Science Daily: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180418141508.htm
Waste to Triple By 2100: www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2013/10/30/global-waste-on-pace-to-triple
Current Human Population: www.worldometers.info/world-population/