Food waste in the United States is a colossal problem that can no longer be ignored. Even though most foods are biodegradable, food waste does not simply disappear. When food rots it produces methane, a greenhouse gas, which is 20 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide (CO2). The dangers of methane from food waste are amplified by the fact that food waste is the number one material emptied into our nation’s landfills and incinerators. Notwithstanding the environmental dangers of food waste, recovered food could also feed the hungry. For these reasons, it is imperative that America works towards reducing its food waste level. Five percent of our nation’s food waste could provide a day’s worth of food for 4 million people. The United Nations World Food Programme reports that America’s leftovers could feed every hungry person in Africa.
Exactly how much food America wastes is debated. The U.S. Department of Agriculture places the total of America’s food waste at around 25.9 million tons a year. The University of Arizona argues that America’s food waste total could be as a high as 50 fifty percent of the amount of food produced on the basis that the nation’s grocery stores, restaurants, and convenience stores alone produce around 27 million tons (around $30 billion dollars) of food waste a year.
Currently there are not enough incentives for the average consumer or those in the food industry to reduce food waste. Cruz Goler, a chef at one of Mario Batali’s restaurants in New York City stated, “It’s just another thing we’re used to as a restaurant professional… the amount of garbage that’s thrown out on a nightly basis. It can be a little staggering, I guess, but that’s just what happens.” Logan Cox, another top chef, recently told National Public Radio (NPR) that food waste is low on a chef’s priority list because the quality of ingredients used and the final product is more important than how much waste is created in the process. In other words, a chef may toss out a dozen carrots solely based on their ascetics before he chooses the perfect one without batting an eye.
Despite an apathetic institutional attitude in the restaurant business against reducing rude waste, there have been some small-scale efforts to help restaurants reduce food waste. Chris Moyer, a representative of the National Restaurant Association (NRA), is a proponent of training restaurants to reduce food waste. To standardize useful waste reduction techniques the NRA started ConServe, a program founded to help restaurants find economical and environmentally sound solutions to conserve food waste. The program markets its services to restaurants on the basis that environmentally friendly practices can also improve a company’s bottom line.
While programs like ConServe and efforts by individuals like Moyer are laudable, it is time for the government to take action and attack our nation’s food waste problem. Food waste produced by individual consumers and the staggering rate of food waste produced by the food industry needs to be addressed. The U.S. government should conduct a comprehensive study of our nation’s food waste problem and set national goals for food waste reduction. State and local governments should also create incentives in the form of tax reductions to businesses that donate edible food waste. Legal barriers to recovering food also need to be addressed. Currently, the majority of edible food waste is not recovered because businesses often fear liability. As a result, only around 10 percent of edible food waste is recovered in the form of food donations. A government program monitoring food recovery could provide a powerful catalyst for change of food waste produced by businesses, especially those in the food industry. Targeting the food industry’s level of waste coupled with a national plan to reduce waste could bring real change to our planet.