Tens of millions of tons of food that leaves farms in the United States is wasted. Much of that waste happens at the industrial level, during harvesting, handling, storage, and processing, but a staggering amount of food gets wasted at home, scraped into the garbage can at the end of a meal or tossed after too long in the crisper drawer. According to a 2020 Penn State University study, almost a third of the food that American households buy is wasted.
On the individual level, all of this waste is expensive, annoying, and gross. In the aggregate, it’s unfortunate, given that about a fifth of American families reported not having enough to eat last year. But it’s also bad for the planet. Every step of the modern food-production process generates greenhouse gases. Before they ended up in the trash, all of those slimy vegetables and uneaten hunks of chicken were grown using water and farmland and pesticides and fertilizer. They were most likely packed in plastic and paper, and then stored and transported using fossil fuels and electricity. Throwing away food means throwing away all of the resources it requires, but the problems don’t end there: As food rots in landfills and open dumps, it emits methane, a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon dioxide. According to the United Nations, food loss and waste accounts for about 8 to 10 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions. [Continue reading…]