Summer is a wonderful season for eating.
You get all those fresh fruits and vegetables that are so flavorful and juicy. All the nutrition articles I read indicate we should be eating fresh, locally-grown food as opposed to processed food. While these foods are an excellent source of nutrition, they may have a very short shelf-life – in other words, “if it doesn’t rot in the fridge after a week, it must be full of preservatives and not as nutritious”. If you talk with my family, they will assure you I would rather let food go to my waist, than go to waste!
Food loss and waste is a serious issue, not only in this country but around the globe. Nearly one-third of the food grown in the world goes uneaten. That’s one billion tons each year. There are lots of issues about food loss and waste that face us, such as economic and food security, but for the sake of discussion, let’s focus on the environmental impacts.
The area of land required to grow the amount of food wasted each year equals the size of China. While we are continuing to grow more food per acre, we are not increasing the amount of land on which to grow food and our population is increasing rapidly. According to United Nations data, the current world population is 7.4 billion with forecasts of 9.7 billion by 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100. Agriculture requires a lot of water to grow food, fiber and fuel. It is estimated that food loss and waste accounts for one fourth of all water used for agriculture.
The food waste also contributes 8 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions – think about that! If food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter! For this reason, several states in the New England region have instituted bans on disposing of food waste in landfills and require composting.
While it is easy to see we need to reduce the amount of food wasted and lost each year, it is an issue that most feel is “not my problem.” According to a 2015 survey conducted by the Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, only 53 percent of the respondents said they were aware that food waste is an issue. From this survey, it is interesting the perceptions people have about food waste.
According to the report, “68 percent of respondents believe that throwing away food after the package date has passed reduces the chance of foodborne illness, and 59 percent believe some food waste is necessary to be sure meals are fresh and flavorful. 77 percent feel a general sense of guilt when throwing away food.
At the same time, only 58 percent indicate they understand throwing away food is bad for the environment. 51 percent said they believe it would be difficult to reduce household food waste, and 42 percent say they don’t have enough time to worry about it. Still, 53 percent admit they waste more food when they buy in bulk or purchase large quantities during sales. At the same time, 87 percent think they waste less food than similar households.”
While I am guilty of this last perception, my family will also attest to the fact that I keep food far longer than the package date (probably years longer!). But if we are going to dispose of food because we think it is bad, out of date, or we are just tired of it, can we at least dispose of it through composting? By composting, we reduce the greenhouse gas emissions, reduce the space used in the landfill, and create a valuable soil amendment that can be a boon for your favorite landscape and garden plants.
Home compost0rs can be purchased at most big box retailers, hardware stores, garden centers, and even here at the Delaware SWCD office. They are very easy to use, come in a variety of sizes, and don’t take up much space. If you have enough space at home, you can also build very inexpensive, but larger compostors if you need additional material for your gardens.
There are many helpful websites that give instructions on home composting, just query your internet browser by typing in “composting” and you will find many sites or you can contact the Delaware SWCD office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 740.368.1921 and we will help you find information you need.
Just for food for thought.
Brad Ross is communications specialist at the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be reached at email@example.com.