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Blog: Reduce food waste, help address climate change

What’s a simple thing we can all do to make a difference for climate change? Reduce food waste.
Trashed vegetables in Luxembourg. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

What’s a simple thing we can all do to make a difference for climate change? Reduce food waste. 

Food waste (defined as edible food that is not consumed) is a significant climate change problem. It’s estimated that about one-third of all the food produced in the United States goes to waste. Overall, that amounts to about 80 million tons of wasted food in the U.S. every year.

Why is this a climate issue? First, energy and resources are being used to grow, harvest, package, transport, cook, and store food that is then thrown away. Second, when food is dumped in a landfill, it produces methane – a greenhouse gas that’s 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. According to the United Nations, food waste contributes more than 8% of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest GHG-emitting country in the world.

The good news is that here in California, we’re doing something about it. A 2016 bill known as SB 1383 created a plan to reduce food waste by recovering edible food and composting what can’t be recovered. Now, large businesses like supermarkets and hotel kitchens can give surplus food to food banks and other local nonprofits to feed people in need. Just within San Mateo County, over 5,500,000 lbs. of food have been recovered through this program. 

But there are still plenty of things we can all do at the individual level to make a difference – and save money in the process!

How to reduce your food waste

Let me be the first to admit I’m not very good at reducing my own food waste. I tend to get carried away at the grocery store and the farmer’s market – I blame it on the gorgeous produce that’s available around here. But every time I remember not to buy food that I won’t be able to eat before it goes bad, I’m making a difference. 

Of course, some of us also buy and prepare food for others in our households – and it can be hard to predict what, when, and how much our families will eat. From picky kids to unexpected plans that cause family members to miss meals to new recipes that don’t work out quite as expected, avoiding food waste in our homes can be very challenging. But just because we can’t achieve zero food waste doesn’t mean we should give up. I recommend repeating the same mantra I mentioned above – every time you successfully reduce food waste, you’re making a difference.

Finally, remember to put all food scraps and other organic waste in the green compost bin – not in the trash. If you’re in the service area for Recology San Mateo, check to see what materials can go in the green bin.

What suggestions do you have to reduce food waste? Tell me in the comments!

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