One-third of the food we grow is wasted every year. That adds up to 1.3 billion tons of food thrown in landfills around the world. And that food, instead of feeding hungry people, sits in landfills and slowly releases methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times as potent as carbon dioxide in trapping atmospheric heat.
And food is wasted at every level of the food-distribution pyramid: Farmers don’t harvest misshapen yet perfectly tasty vegetables; truckers’ loads are rejected by stores; and spoiled produce ends up in trash cans around the globe.
Some individuals and organizations are now fighting these trends. Here are five ways to combat food waste at every level.
Pick Up a New Hobby
Americans throw out about a pound of food every single day. And, somewhat surprisingly, the higher quality your diet, the more food you are likely to waste. That’s because health-promoting vegetables and fruits also require substantial resources to bring to the market.
Composting is a simple solution to fight food waste. Whether it’s apple peels or egg shells, composting offers a use for food scraps that would otherwise sit in a landfill. Composting speeds up the natural decay of organic waste and creates a nutrient-rich soil great for gardens. Cities across the country offer compost collectives where people can learn the basics of composting. Many composting organizations pick up scraps and offer drop-off locations for food waste. Cities like Seattle, Denver and San Francisco all have curbside compost pickup and other cities are following their lead.
Another easy hobby: making jam, pickles and preservatives. Jamming and pickling are simple strategies to use nearly spoiled produce. Cucumbers about to go bad? Try pickling them. Or maybe a few apples are past their prime — try turning them into apple sauce.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a good resource for how to make jams, jellies and preservatives.
Buy Ugly Foods
People tend to buy the prettiest peaches and the most vibrant peppers, leaving their “ugly” brethren behind. So companies like Imperfect Produce and Hungry Harvest are changing the norms about what food should look like.
Hungry Harvest is an “ugly” food subscription service. They purchase unsellable produce directly from farmers at low cost. The company then ships it to customers in a weekly subscription box. The customers save money, the food ends up in bellies and the farmers make a profit from what might have otherwise gone to waste.
Imperfect Produce offers its produce at a 30 percent markdown.
“Hopefully it’s a pipeline to get as much of that food as possible out of that field and into people’s fridges across the country,” says Imperfect Produce CEO, Ben Simon.
Support Food-Donation Nonprofits
Grocery stores have the final say when produce is dropped off. If the bananas are overripe or the tomatoes too small, then the produce might be rejected. Truckers are on tight schedules, so they don’t have many options on what to do with unwanted food. Sometimes the simplest solution is to drop it in a dump, but that’s usually associated with landfill fees, not to mention a terrible environmental impact.
Food Drop, a pilot initiative by the Indy Hunger Network, is intervening. Food Dump reaches truckers before the truckers reach the dump. By pairing truckers up with the nearest food banks, they save the truckers’ time and money, cut back on food waste and provide people in need with fresh food.
In the five-month pilot, the initiative saved 87,000 pounds of food. The programming is now expanding across the entire state of Indiana.
Other organizations have similar programs. Food Cowboy has a hotline where truckers, caterers and events can offer leftover food to charities in need.
Technology is becoming a popular tool in fighting food waste. Everything from mobile apps to software can be used to track and reduce waste.
Copia, a technology company focused on food recovery, works with cafeterias, caterers and other business to redistribute food to food banks. Copia redirects about 60,000 pounds of food each month.
“We’re a tech-enabled logistics company, like Uber, that matches people who have excess edible food with people who need it,” says Copia’s CEO, Komal Ahmad.
Copia’s software analytics can also help businesses understand where there’s consistent surplus, so that they can adjust their orders. So far Copia has recovered a million pounds of produce and served over 900,000 meals.
Several organizations are kick-starting movements to change policies around food distribution and waste on local and national levels.
For example, Food Policy Action tackles food waste on a national level. Its mission is “to promote positive policies, educate the public, and hold legislators accountable for their votes on food and farm policy.”
The Food Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard University is an opportunity for students to use legal and policy tools to interact and effect change within the environmental, economic and health sectors of our food systems. Students work with individuals and communities to help them understand and improve their food systems, as well as help shape food-waste legislation.